Reading Ramblings – November 15, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost – November 15, 2015

Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-13

Context: The readings for this second of the last three Sundays of the Church year are more explicitly end-times oriented than last week. They stir in our hearts fear and dread because they speak of difficult things, of suffering and loss and ruin. Yet they also speak of glory – not our glory, not our personal triumph, but the victory of God. We must suffer, but we suffer only for a time, and we know that our suffering will have an end, not just temporarily but eternally.

Daniel 12:1-3 – Daniel is a favorite book of those seeking to interpret signs of the end times. When will Jesus return? When is the final battle of good against evil? I maintain that such searchings are ultimately fruitless. Many of the prophecies of Daniel have been fulfilled, and if there are words to point towards the day of our Lord’s return, they are inadequate to allow us to extract the details we want. But what of the details that we need? We need hope. Hope that regardless of what we face, what terrors and tribulations may fall into our lives or the lives of our children and grandchildren, we are never out of the hand of our God. He will not leave us or forsake us and will be with us and within us to the moment of our death, whether that is peacefully at a ripe old age or violently and premature. Our hope is not to escape suffering, our hope is that if we suffer, we do so in the hand of God, the same hand that will deliver us from this suffering world and our suffering, sinful bodies and into the eternal glory of God.

Psalm 16 – This is the second time this liturgical year that we have had Psalm 16. The last time was back in April, but it’s a good psalm that bears repeating! It is important to remember that this is very true – we take refuge in God, and He is our hope for preservation. Oftentimes we take this rather lightly, rather meaning Lord, let the candidate I like be elected, or Lord, allow me to plan wisely for my retirement. Many of us are blessed not to have truly reached the end of our rope, the end of our resources, and to have absolutely nothing and no one to rely on other than God. Yet God is our only true hope and refuge and preservation. We should rightly acknowledge him as the one who enables the work of our hand or the plans of our minds to reach fruition, and that without his blessing nothing good would be possible. We should also recognize that his will is for his blessings to be enjoyed by all of his creation. If we are blessed it is not because God loves us more. And if we are blessed it will be harder for us if and when our blessings are taken from us by the same evil people and sinful desires that keep God’s blessings from large portions of his creation.

Our hope is only and always in God.

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Paul continues his comparison of Jesus to the sacrificial system and the various elements comprising it. Paul is nearing the conclusion of his lengthy treatise showing how Jesus is no less than God himself, superior in every way not only to spiritual entities such as angels, but vastly superior in his role as both the sacrificial offering and the Great High Priest. This knowledge of Jesus’ identity and function should result not just in intellectual curiosity but in assurance and greater trust and faith. If God the Father is willing to sacrifice no less than his own Son on our behalf, how can we doubt his intentions towards us through faith in his Son? This should embolden our relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and should further impel us towards one another in Christian fellowship.

Those who want to claim that they don’t need church to be Christian are correct, but they are also operating out of confusion. We gather together not to create saving faith in one another – that can only be done by God the Holy Spirit! However we gather together for encouragement, that we might grow in our openness to God the Holy Spirit within us by the example of those around us, while in turn serving as an example to others ourselves. Christianity is at heart a communal faith. We are saved one at a time in order to be brought into proper fellowship not just with our God but with one another. This is our eternal hope, what we look forward to in eternity, and it is fitting that we begin to live out that hope here and now.

Mark 13:1-13 – Just as Jesus’ disciples were impressed with the finery of the scribes and the generosity of wealthy Jews, so are they impressed by the imposing and awe-inspiring Temple itself. Yet, just as Jesus had cautioned them about their assessments of others, now He cautions them about reliance even in the most impressive of physical surroundings. All these things will pass away.

This chapter of Mark can be confusing because Jesus speaks of two separate yet related events – the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem itself (which will occur in 70 AD), and the end times and his glorious return. Just as the disciples likely confused these two events, so Christians today continue to.

These first 13 verses fit firmly into the issue of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and verses 1-2 clearly indicate that as the topic of Jesus’ discourse, based on the disciples further questions in vs. 3-4. In verse 5 then, Jesus begins explaining what to expect as the time for the destruction of the Temple and the city draw close.

First, there will be those who claim to be the Messiah in order to lead people and rally support. But those claims are false, since Jesus is the Messiah, not they. Their claims will garner support to lead insurgencies, and as is typical in that part of the world, wars and battles will be common gossip and knowledge. Acts 5:36-37 mentions just two of the people who rallied people to fight against the Romans and failed. Likewise there will be natural disasters that accentuate the tension of the times.

Accompanying these external forces and powers will come persecutions, and certainly the book of Acts describes some of the very arrests and hearings that Jesus prophecies here.

These are descriptions of what will come to pass within the Apostles’ lifetimes for the most part. Some of them – like Peter – will die beforehand. But they will have witnessed or at least heard of some of the goings-on that will lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The last sentence is crucial though, and easily overlooked because of the powerful predictions preceeding it.

The one who endures to the end will be saved. Jesus’ disciples are not to be focused primarily on avoiding these things. Avoidance will, for many, be impossible. It is endurance that matters. Endurance that makes the difference. Endurance enabled by the very Holy Spirit of God that will accompany them in their various fates, giving them not just words, but the strength to hold fast to the promises of God in their resurrected Lord.

Much is made these days of safety. Our reaction to events in the world is to be governed by safety. Certainly nobody wishes to intentionally act in unsafe manners. Yet the follower of Christ is not called first and foremost to seek safety, but rather to seek endurance. Faithfulness to our Lord was not an option for his disciples, and it should not be an option for us today either, even if that means we expose ourselves to risk. History and current events are replete with Christians who give up safety to serve as the Holy Spirit calls them into danger. May each of us trust that same Holy Spirit to give us endurance even if we cannot have safety.

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