Mark 13:1-8New International Version (NIV)
13 As Jesus 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.”
3 As 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?”
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
My maternal grandfather was one of 8 children. Like many large families, the children grew up, got married, and moved to different parts of the world. Maybe they didn’t go very far, but with transportation not being very dependable back in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, a few miles could be seen as a huge obstacle in maintaining family connections.
So when her children grew up, got married, and moved away, my great grandmother asked her children to make her a promise. She knew that they would need to share time with their spouses’ families at Christmas, so she asked each of her living children to promise that they would be home for Thanksgiving. That tradition lived on long after my great grandmother passed away, and it continues, in a way, to this day. Time will tell if my 96-year-old grandfather will be able to make it back to his childhood home in Holmes County, Ohio again this year, or if he will miss what I believe to only be his second Thanksgiving since the end of World War II.
One of my memories from my years of going to Thanksgiving at my great grandmother’s is that of the huge stone that sits in front of the house. All the children used to climb on the stone, jump off its highest point, and play king of the mountain. I also remember gathering all of my second cousins together one year to see if we could move that big boulder. Guess what. We couldn’t. Because rocks are heavy.
So I’m really not surprised by the reaction of the disciples in our text for this morning. The story comes right after last week’s text where Jesus and his disciples were in the temple watching the widow give her last two pennies to the temple treasury. As they walk out of the temple one of the disciples looks over at Jesus and says, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
My first thought was, “Really? How many times have you been to the Temple before, and you are just now noticing these big stones and magnificent buildings?” We all know that the disciples can be dense, but come on! But we need to remember that the temple was a lot like my construction projects at home: they went on for years and years, seemingly without end.
Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem, but that one was destroyed by the Babylonians when they carried the Israelites off in captivity. When they returned they rebuilt the temple, but it was a shadow of what it had been. So in the year 19 BC, King Herod the Great decided to fix up the temple. He did a number of renovations and enlargements around his kingdom, which many believe was a way for him to strengthen his legacy.
The historian Josephus writes that 10,000 skilled laborers were used to renovate the temple under Herod’s rule, and this project continued until 63 AD. My projects don’t sound so bad now, do they?! That’s over 80 years.
So when the disciples walk out, they may have seen something that wasn’t there the last time they came to the temple. And the disciple who speaks is taken by the beauty of it all. He knows that moving stones like that isn’t easy. Someone one, many someones, had to carry those things in from the hills and plains to place them there on the temple mount.
And what does Jesus say? It’s not going to last. It’s all coming down, and it’s coming down soon. To this the disciples reply, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
Let’s just stop right there and make sure that we are all on the same page. What are “these things” that the disciples are referring to? The destruction of the temple, tearing down those big stones and fancy buildings. We’ve got that, so let’s look at Jesus’ response:
Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
False messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines? When those things happen, know that this event is coming.
I don’t see it in our small town, but I’m sure that we have all seen people who seem to think that they know when the world as we know it will come to an end. Men with bullhorns, standing on the street corner, wearing sandwich-board signs yell out, “Repent! For the end is near!”
I don’t want to be too critical of those individuals, because I think that they are doing their best to be faithful. But I’m really not sure how they know that the end is near, especially when Jesus says that he doesn’t even know. These “end of the world” proclaimers seem to be getting more and more common, or at least they are getting more and more attention. How many people remember a little something that we called Y2K? The year 2,000 was going to not only mess up all of our computing systems, in the minds of many, it was going to be the day when Jesus came back. We are now 15+ years later, so either people were wrong or we were all left behind. Many of us will remember Harold Camping, who bought billboards, newspaper ads, and encouraged Christians to quit their jobs to spread the news that the world would come to an end on May 21, 2011. Again, no disrespect to Mr. Camping, but he was wrong.
And strangely enough, we didn’t learn from that example. Less than one year later way too many people were freaking out about the end of the Mayan calendar. The world must be coming to an end because many years ago the Mayans decided to stop calculating their calendar past the year 2012. They must know something that we don’t!
Most Christians didn’t give a lot of credibility to the Mayan calendar or even to Harold Camping. We are rational people, after all. But just this year there was this big to do over the “Four Blood Moons.” I think that this one got some serious attention because a prominent pastor, whom I will not name, wrote a book on this subject, and it was a best seller. The theory says that when there are four lunar eclipses in a short period of time, something major happens. And on April 15, 2014, we had the first of four blood moons that would occur over a period of less than 18 months. The last one was to happen on September 28, 2015, the day that would mark the end of the world!
I laugh about this today, but I had family members (not my immediate family!) that were posting this stuff online. Again, this pastor’s book was a best seller. And you can still buy it on Amazon, and surprisingly the price didn’t drop significantly on September 29.
Let me be crystal clear. I believe that one day Jesus will return to the earth and those believers who have gone on before us will be raised to eternal life and we will join in the communion of saints for all of eternity. BUT I DON’T KNOW WHEN! AND NEITHER DOES ANYONE ELSE!
Yes, I believe Jesus is coming back. And yes, there are passages in the Bible about that. But I do not think that today’s passage is about the return of Jesus. What did we say that it is about? The destruction of the temple. And we know that in the year 70 AD, the Romans marched through Jerusalem and flattened the temple. There was a revolt going on and there were Jews who were claiming to be God’s anointed leader who would deliver the people from Rome. All they had to do was join him in battle!
What do we call people who are anointed by God? In Hebrew, it is meshiac, or messiah. What did Jesus say to expect to see when the temple was about to fall? There will be false messiahs. There will be war and rumors of war. Nation will rise up against nation. There will be famine and earthquakes.
Now you may disagree with my interpretation, and that is fine. Neither your salvation nor my own is tied up in getting this one just right. But let me ask you this, in which interpretation does Jesus come out looking better?
The Bible tells us how to test to see if someone is a true prophet. It’s simple, if someone’s prophesy doesn’t come true, they aren’t a prophet from God. If it does come true, they are a prophet of God. Jesus’ prophesy about the temple falling did come true. And some of the disciples were still alive to see it. So in my mind, to think that Jesus was prophesying about the destruction of the temple shows that Jesus was from God.
When people try to figure out the day and time that Jesus will come back, first they are saying that they know more than Jesus who straight out said that he didn’t know. And perhaps just as bad, when people stand on a street corner or put up billboards or write best-selling novels making predictions about the end of the world, we as a religion lose credibility in the minds of nonbelievers. When nonbelievers see that guy on the street corner proclaiming that the end is near, people write him off as a religious nut. And if that guy is wrong about the end of the world, like Christians have been wrong about for 2,000 years, what else could they be wrong about? I at lease want to say he is a brother, even if misguided. But most people won’t afford him that grace.
One more concern is that we can get so caught up in predicting end times that we fail to be the hands and feet of Christ in our time. If the world is going to end tomorrow, why bother feeding the hungry, healing the sick, or clothing the naked? Why bother being good stewards of our finances and our environment if it’s all going to end tomorrow anyway? I submit to you that these end times predictions are more than just bad theology, they can be toxic theology, poisoning the very message of Jesus Christ.
Do you want to know what I really think today’s passage is about? I think Jesus is simply warning his disciples about something that they already know: things change. Even something as seemingly permanent as a huge temple built upon gigantic boulders is not immune to change. Remember that the temple was not even God’s idea to start with. King David one day said, “Why am I living in a swanky palace and the Ark of the Covenant is out in a field? I’m going to build a temple.” The temple served a purpose, but be sure that God didn’t need the temple. God used the temple. And when the temple fell, God used something else.
God used us. And he still does.
John Mayer may have said that your body is a wonderland, but long before that, the Apostle Paul said that your body is the temple of God. The Holy Spirit lives in you.
This week I heard a lot of people crying out because of change. And if I never hear another word about red cups at Starbucks, I’ll be a much happier man! If you have been living in the woods without electricity this week, you might not have heard that a pastor made a video condemning the coffee giant for trying to take Christ out of Christmas. Every year since 1999 Starbucks has issued a special holiday cup around the first of November. In year’s past these cups have included pictures of reindeer, snowflakes, and Santa. But this year, the cups were simply red with the traditional Starbucks logo on it.
So, you know, by taking Santa off a coffee cup, Starbucks is attacking Christmas.
I think that the reason this pastor’s video was initially so popular is because he did think of something kind of cute. If you’ve never been to Starbucks, bless you. But when you order your coffee, they write your name on the cup that they are using to make your drink. Then when the drink is ready, they call out your name so you can retrieve the black gold. So this pastor suggested that when Christians are asked what their name is, that they tell the cashier, “My name is Merry Christmas.” This way, Starbucks would have to write Merry Christmas on the cups, and they would call out, “Merry Christmas!” every time a drink was ready.
Let’s be honest, that is creative and kind of cute. But like the guys who stand on the street corner proclaiming that the end is near or buy billboard space or write books about blood moons, I think that this Starbucks pastor is misguided and mistaken. I give him credit for stepping out in faith and doing what he thinks is right, but I think that he is making something out of nothing.
Do you know what is the real motivator behind all of these things? What really makes a person think that they know when the world is going to come to an end and what really makes someone think that a coffee shop is waging a war on Christians? It’s a fear of change.
Let’s first validate this fear. Our world is changing fast, and it isn’t always changing for the better. I don’t like all of the changes that I see in our society, and sometimes it does seem that it might even be for the best if the world did come to an end soon. And when we can, I think it is appropriate to resist change that is counter to the message of Jesus. I totally get that. But I am reminded of all of the times that Jesus gives the simple instruction, “Don’t be afraid.”
I would assume that for those disciples that Jesus told the temple was going to be destroyed, the idea was more than a little unsettling. Their entire life the temple had been the center of their religious activities. But that was going to change. Don’t be afraid.
This past week I spent roughly 1,000 hours (give or take) in meetings where we discussed the church’s relationship with people in the LGBTQ community. And though these meetings were overall encouraging, I have little hope that the church that we know, the church that I love, will be the same in 10 years. Our conference is losing yet another church in February. I got to spend some time talking with a denominational leader at this event and he told me that right now our conference is one of the healthier ones. He also said that the churches in Wayne and Holmes County Ohio seem very unstable. I came to know Jesus and was baptized in one of those churches. I know that change is coming, and I don’t like it. I’m going to resist that change. But I hear the voice of Jesus calling out, “Don’t be afraid.”
Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid because God doesn’t live in buildings of brick and mortar. Our bodies are the temple of the Lord. Temples of stone may fall, denominations may crumble, and Starbucks might change their coffee cups. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And we know that in the end, whenever that might be, Jesus is victorious.
So I come back to that big rock in front of my grandfather’s childhood home. That rock hasn’t moved in 1,000’s of years, maybe even longer. I find comfort in knowing that rock wasn’t placed there by human hands. Only God could put it there. And I’m not afraid that this rock will be moved.