THIS WEEK'S MESSAGE
St. Andrew's Lutheran Church is the Founding Perish of the
Beware of Being Led Astray
November 18, 2018 - Sermon Text: Mark 13:1-8
The Temple of Jerusalem had been the pride of Israel for many centuries which is why Jesus’ comment today appears so out of place as he replies to his disciple’s question by saying “not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2).
Today, what the disciples’ looked upon and called “a magnificent building” is completely gone. In its place stands the smaller “Dome of the Rock” (S2018-11-1) which is an Islamic shrine built on Temple Mount in 691 AD. The third temple, restored by King Herod had been a massive structure, built completely with manual labour. John gives us a glimpse into the time & effort used to build this incredible structure when he says “it has taken forty-six years to build this temple” (John 2:20). One foundation stone would have been 67 feet long by 18 feet wide by 12 feet high or about the size of two train box cars. The temple covered one-sixth of the land area of the ancient city of Jerusalem or about the space twenty football fields. The complete destruction of such a structure in the first century would have been unthinkable.
In order to put this into perspective, (S2018-11-2) this is a picture of site of the World Trade Towers in New York, taken twelve days after 9/11. (S2018-11-3) The towers originally occupied 14.6 acres of land. Even when you take into account the area of destruction caused by the towers as they collapsed, (S2018-11-4) you can see how the 35 acres of the temple mount in Jesus’ day covers twice the real-estate of the greatest disaster of the twenty-first century.
Today, acts of terrorism cause fear and make us walk around on egg-shells. Even Asama Bin Laden admitted that he never foresaw the complete destruction and devastation that was initiated by His attacks on the United States of America. During World War 2, people were suspicious of Japanese and German Canadians. There was a time, when we saw Islamic people as different, but today, we are quick to judge, even if only in our thoughts & to fear Islamic Canadians because of the events of recent history.
Many today are looking at the signs of the time asking “what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled” (Mark 13:4). Jewish eschatology, the belief that specific events will occur, will be ushered in by the appearance of the Messiah, were very much a part of first century Judaism and thought as found recorded throughout the Hebrew Bible. We’re not speaking of anything new. “Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice…. May he rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Psalm 72:1, 2, 8) speaks of the reign of the coming King Messiah. “A day of the Lord is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your very walls…. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord and his name the only name” (Zechariah 14:1, 9).
These and many other messianic proclamations made by the prophets of the Old Testament clearly show us what God Himself proclaims to Isaiah saying; “this is what the Lord says - Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6). God is our beginning, and He will ultimately be our ending. Since the Temple of Jerusalem is the residence of God here on earth, the complete destruction, the end of the temple must signal the end – the apocalypse.
As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olive, “Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately; tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:3-4). So, there you have it! Just like today, like us, the disciples want to know, what is going to happen and when is it going to happen. Who can blame them? They have access to the mind of God. With this kind of information they could be prepared, we could be prepared, without any doubt about when the end of time has come.
The children of Israel had already been waiting, for centuries, for the first appearance of the Messiah – the Anointed One of God. From the time of Joshua to the reign of King David God had been worshiped in a make-shift temple in the wilderness. When David wanted to build an earth-bound home for God, the task was given to his son Solomon, who undertook the task in the year 957 BC to build a Temple that was visited by people from all around the world. The temple often fell into disrepair and was destroyed by Babylon in 586 BC. When the exiles returned in 538 the second Temple was rebuilt under governor Zerubbabel, but many of the older Jews said that it did not come close to the glory of the first Temple.
Again, the temple fell into disrepair and under Greek world domination; a great act of desecration took place as a statue of the pagan God Zeus was installed in the Temple. In 332 BC Alexander the Great, completely destroyed the temple. Rome defeated Greece about 30 years before the birth of Christ at which point, King Herod the Great, in order to make a name for himself among the Jews and Romans rebuild the temple which would later be destroyed by Rome around 70 AD. An earthquake in 363 AD ended all attempts to rebuild the temple.
Sometimes, when we review the thousand year life cycle of ancient societies and their monuments – we can begin to see how our short little lives aren’t all that different. The temple of Jerusalem had a beginning, a cycle of life with all its ups and downs, and finally an ending. Jesus says “do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Mark 13:7).
Even now, we know that the universe in which we live has a beginning; “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) spoke God almighty. Each of us is part of the cycle of that life until the day when “the first heaven and the first earth (has) had passed away” (Revelation 21:1) and the new Temple, which is “the Lord God almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22) is established forever in the timeless New Jerusalem.
We entered this world through birth and we know that our life is destined for the grave. We have a beginning and we have an ending. The Temple is also representative of our life in this time and place, as we move through the cycles of life, along with all its ups and down, beliefs and doubts. God’s word reminds us that we are a continuous work in progress, as Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Philippi joyfully declaring “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
God is not finished with me yet – is good news. Let’s face it, take a good honest look at everything in the present; the condition of the world you live in, the condition of the church, the condition of your own life, and if this was the end of the story, we would all be in big trouble.
But, this is not the end of the story. Thank God! God is still working things out. God is not finished yet. When Paul wrote this to the Christians living in Philippi, it was meant to help them in their daily Christian walk and to encourage them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These same words are meant to encourage us, when we go through the same cycles of the Temple of Jerusalem, through cycles of rebuilding, renovation, restoration and destruction.
When we are going through some really bad things in our lives, when our world feels like everything is falling apart, when things outside of us our breaking down our walls of faith – Paul tells us to stand firm in the presence of God, because you are the temple of God. The reason we don’t need the temple of Jerusalem is because God tore it down to build something else. God’s new temple, which is now flesh and blood, will now also go through many rebuilding, renovation and restoration projects before we get to the end of that story.
So what happens every time that we think that we are coming to the end of the story? The disciples wanted to know how close the end was and if it was going to be happening soon, so they could recognise the end’s approach and be ready for it. Instead, Jesus says to us “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” (Mark 13:5-8).
This is all good and well, but saying that it’s only the beginning doesn’t answer the question – when is it all going to take place! We want to be prepared for it. And in fact, Jesus knows us all too well. On December 31st, in the years 999 and 1999 – millions of people turned to the church and primarily to prayer – in expectation of Christ’s return and the ushering in of the end. The mission of the church turned from outwardly focused on sharing the gospel, to inwardly focused on self, hanging on to the words of MY salvation and My life eternal.
Instead of filling the hearts and minds of His disciples with things they don’t need to know in order to do the work of His church – Jesus instead gives them one warning of great value, which in itself is more of a promise than a warning. “Watch out that no one deceives you” (Mark 13:5).
John in writing to the church talks about testing the spirits and “how we recognise the spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 John 4:6) while James describes how we should “keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). We have more than enough information throughout the New Testament on what we need to avoid.
Instead, what Jesus is telling his disciples in this warning is that our faith, our trust in God, our obedience to God remaining focused on Him, every single day is what will keep us on the right path. Your faith is on trial every single day and every moment that you are alive.
Satan wants nothing better than to see you crumble under the weight of the troubles of this world, the challenges of this life, to look at the hopelessness of the wildfires, earthquakes, wars, famines, sickness, chronic pain & death so that you would drift away from trusting God and fall into complete despair and unbelief. The devil wants nothing more than to daily remind you of your sinfulness & make you question – how could a holy God love me.
That is why Jesus warns us to not be led astray. Trust in Jesus and his promises. His promise today is to not be led astray by remaining focused on him. Yes, we daily struggle with many things, the world, our family, even our faith and trust in God and God’s Word. We will witness great evil and much destruction, even in our short lifetimes on this side of eternity, but we will also see rebuilding, renovation and restoration as God continues to shape our world and our lives for the final ending, which is totally and only in the Father’s hands.
I’m not going to talk about how often Jesus says to us to not fear. “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27) Jesus says to his disciples on the eve of his death. Jesus often reminds us to trust in Him saying “not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict” (Luke 21:15).
As we again prepare ourselves to enter the season of Advent, we again hear His words, to not be anxious, but to “keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back” (Mark 13:35). Jesus even re-assures Peter before his ascension that his calling is not to worry about rumors, myths or other concerns, refocusing Peter on what is important saying “you must follow me” (John 21:22).
You and I are a work in progress. Paul makes that clear. Like the disciples, we can worry about everything that is taking place in our lives and in the world. Instead, Jesus wants to help us by allowing ourselves to be broken-down, re-focused, rebuild, and renovated because we are a work in progress. It is a constant cycle of the life we live from womb to grave.
At the heart of Jesus’ teaching today, is not so much a warning about worrying about what is happening all around us, but a promise that we are part of God’s great restoration plan, which began when the world and our lives that God Almighty had created for us were cast into despair by Sin and by us. Now, we are part of the life-cycle of restoration through the cross of Christ as you and I are being called to follow and to focus our minds and hearts on Jesus in spite of everything that is taking place in the world around us.
“Watch out that no one deceives you” (Mark 13:5) is a call to focus on the only One who is trustworthy and true. Jesus wants all of his disciples to continue to stand on the Gospel and to share our story of faith, which might include some valleys of doubt, troubles, and painful destruction about how the Lord has impacted, transformed, renewed and renovated our lives. Jesus’ words, to remain focused on him, gives us endurance in times of trial, strength under the weight to hold fast to the truth, and the ability to stand firmly rooted in Jesus and the Word of God - no matter what is happening in our lives or in the world around us.
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