Reading Ramblings – November 18, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twenty sixth Sunday after Pentecost, November 18, 2018

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

Context: As we near the end of the liturgical season and cast our eyes more earnestly towards our Lord’s promised return, might there not be some concern about that day? Judgment has a tendency to induce anxiety even when there is no reasonable grounds to be afraid. How many folks instinctively slow down when they see a police car, even if they aren’t speeding? And how much more concerned might we be about judgment, knowing our sinfulness in thought, word and deed? The readings this week emphasize that the return of our Lord and the judgment to follow should not be a cause for alarm or dread for those in Christ. Our great high priest has accomplished on our behalf what we could never do on our own – the complete forgiveness and elimination of our sins and therefore the fear of the Law of judgment under which those sins would place us.

Daniel 12:1-3 – This passage is predicated on the prophecies in Chapter 12, having to do with the end of the Persian Empire, the advent of the Greek expansion under Alexander the Great, and the ensuing struggles for power and control after Alexander dies with no heir and his lands in the Near East are divided between his generals Ptolemy and Seleucus. However Chapter 13 seems to be dealing with other issues, since the sorts of deliverance – particularly bodily resurrections and judgment – are associated with the return of Jesus and yet to come in the future. Without getting into the complicated arena of prophetic interpretation and application, these three verses indicate a climactic struggle, divine assistance and protection, and a bodily resurrection linked with an eternal/everlasting judgment. Some will rise to eternal glory and others to eternal ignomy. The details are vague, but do provide us with hope. As we marvel at the unraveling of our society and culture we should not be surprised. Whether this is a final unraveling heralding the end of the last days and the imminent return of Jesus we cannot know. But we do know that we are to place our faith and trust in him, knowing that regardless of what the world may do to us, God our creator and redeemer has the final word over us, and his final word to us will be Live!

Psalm 16 – A simple contrast is laid out here, between trust in God or trust in worldly sources. The speaker affirms that there can be no safer or better or surer place to rest their trust than in God, and that all who do likewise should be looked up to and imitated. The alternative of placing trust and hope elsewhere (v.4) are certain and unpleasant, and the speaker will not participate with them. Rather, they affirm that God has already blessed them and that further blessings are to come. God therefore will be the source of the speaker’s counsel and wisdom, trusting neither in themselves or alternate options. This reaches a climax in verse 10, where the speaker asserts that not even death can stop God’s blessings, and that blessings will continue despite and beyond death itself. This is a beautiful psalm affirming God’s promises of life and warning of the dangers of placing trust elsewhere.

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Paul (the traditional author if perhaps not the actual author) continues to contrast the perfect and final work of Jesus the Great High Priest as well as spotless and perfect sacrifice. The earthly high priest stands (v.11) but Jesus now sits (v.12) having completed his work perfectly and without need for further work until the completion of all things (vs.13-14). He then quotes Jeremiah 31:33 and Isaiah 43:25 to flesh out the meaning of this – Jesus’ perfect sacrifice perfectly atones for the sins of all. Nothing further is required, or could be added. Such forgiveness is given to any and all who repent and trust that Jesus’ death accomplishes that forgiveness on their behalf. This results in spirits not of fear and guilt but rather boldness (v.19). There is no place that we are barred or prohibited from on account of our sin. Our situation has been completely transformed by the work of our Lord. What a wonderful assurance! What a wonderful hope to share with others and to encourage and build up one another in – and what a beautiful reason to gather together in worship and praise of our God who has accomplished all of these things by his grace and to the glory of his Name!

Mark 13:1-13 – We are impressed by the things we create or that other more gifted (or wealthy!) people are able to accomplish, such as an impressive building like the Second Temple in Jerusalem. While Jesus’ disciples had seen this many times before, it never ceased to be a source of wonder and amazement. But Jesus redirects them. Such awe is properly reserved for God. Not only is He infinite and the one true Creator, but the things we create will all too soon pass away. Jesus responds to awe in the present by prophetically directing his hearers’ eyes forward. The Temple will all too soon be destroyed with literally nothing left of it to revere. As man creates, so man destroys. Only God can create and save from destruction.

This first section of Mark 13 deals prophetically with the Jewish revolt of 67 AD and the ensuing Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. In the midst of all of this his own followers will suffer as well, put on trial and persecuted for testifying to the miracle of his resurrection from the dead. These are all terrifying things but we are not to spend our time anxiously wringing our hands and wondering whether or not we will be able to remain faithful. Rather, we are assured that, just as Jesus’ followers were given the words to say at the proper time, and the faith to remain steady in their proclamation even to death itself, so we can trust that our God will never forsake us.

Jesus’ words can be placed historically in relationship to the first century, but what held true for his followers then is an assurance and encouragement to us now. The terrors we see in our world are nothing new, tragically. Our hope lies not in avoiding these things but rather by enduring to the end (v.13). Our faith and trust and hope lay in Christ alone. And He who has Created and sustained us through out lives will not abandon us at the moment of death, but rather as the true Good Shepherd, He will guard and guide us through death itself to the celebration that awaits on the other side (Psalm 23).

We look forward to the return of Christ. We can do so only by trusting in the perfection of God’s timing, and the perfection of the atoning work of Jesus’ death, testified to by his resurrection. These should be sources of peace and comfort and joy far more than anything that we can do or say or build or buy.

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