Thinking Out Loud

September 17, 2016

The Inner Circle Wants an Inside Track on the End of the World

This weekend I’m continuing to present a series of devotionals I wrote for Christianity 201 earlier this week. In a way there are some similarities between this one and yesterday’s. There we looked at Paul separating out his core group for an intensive teaching program. Here, Jesus takes some of his core group aside to talk about end times signs.

 

Today we’re looking at a few verses in Mark 13.

Matthew 13:1 NIV 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.”

A few nights ago I watched a most enlightening sermon on John 3 from Dr. Gary Burge, professor at Wheaton College who teaches at Wheaton College, given on a Wedneday night at Willow Creek. You can watch the sermon at this link.

One of the things he spoke about was how the coming of Jesus replaces the things that have existed as central to Judaism with new things. Burge says that “Jesus is abundantly replacing the things he encounters in his world.”

  • In his first miracle, Jesus takes the ceremonial water for washing and replaces it with wine.
  • In his encounter with Nicodemus (the subject of Burge’s message) Jesus reminds him that “you are Israel’s teacher and yet you don’t know these things;” (Jn. 3:10) and Jesus himself replaces him as Israel’s teacher.
  • In the text above we’re told that the temple itself will be replaced with something new, the temple of his body which will die and be raised within three days.

Continuing in the chapter,

Mark 13:3 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?”

jesus-core-group-peter-james-and-johnThis question sets the stage for the rest of the chapter, but the thing that struck me as I was reading it in The Voice Bible was a bit peripheral, but still worth noting. There’s a sense in which they are saying, ‘Just tell us — just the four of us — what the signs will be.’ As a group of people taken aside, they felt entitled to some insider information. Who would not be eager to be the chosen of the chosen?

But it’s also worth noting the inclusion of Andrew. We tend to think of the inner circle as consisting of a type of triumvirate consisting of Peter, James and John. In a natural sense, we can see Andrew’s inclusion here, after all, James and John were brothers and so were Peter and Andrew. Two sets of brothers. But usually (see Mark 5:37 and The Transfiguration in Matthew 17) Andrew isn’t part of this select group. So what we see here with Jesus is flexibility in choosing who is part of the core group at any given time. There’s a leadership lesson here, that some other people can be brought to the table as occasion arises; the group is not tightly closed.

Mark 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.

9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

I find verse 11 somewhat paradoxical in light of other New Testament instructions such as,

I Peter 3:15b …Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope.

There is a balance to be struck between Holy Spirit leading and proper preparation. Having been in this situation many times in my contacts with seekers and non-believers, I can honestly say there are times when, even though I feel I can offer textbook-precise answers, I have to pause and ask God to speak through me.

As to the dominant theme of these verses, I think it’s interesting that all three synoptic gospel writes include something to the effect “these things must happen.”

Luke 21:9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Mark 13:7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Personally, I subscribe to what I call ‘The Domino Theory.’ When people say, “Jesus could come today;” I believe that’s true in the sense that Jesus might call me home today. (In other words, he might come for me.) The imperative of the gospel is ‘Choose today whom you will serve;’ (Joshua 24:15) and ‘Look: Now is the right time, today is the day for salvation.’ (2 Corinthians 6:2; in The Message: “Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped.”)

As important as this is, it remains true that there are certain prophetic markers which must occur first. This is where the dominoes kick in. I believe that those markers could be staked like dominoes and fall together in rapid succession. So yes, “the end is till to come;” but don’t kick back and relax because of that. A wise person will not wait for the dominoes to start falling, but will be observant of the stacking of the dominoes.

So we jump to the end of the chapter and see Jesus saying,

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Our desire should be the deepest intimacy with Jesus that was enjoyed by Peter, James and John (and Andrew), but if our goal in that is simply knowledge, we need to know that Jesus might not grant us insider information, because some things are not for us to know.


Read the full chapter of Mark 13 at Bible Gateway

 

 

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December 27, 2013

The Christmas Story in the Gospel of Mark

Filed under: Christmas, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:04 am

This is from Clarke Dixon, a pastor in Cobourg, a city about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. I actually got to hear the first message in this series, The Christmas Story in the Gospel of Matthew, and then at the end he invited his parishioners to read the Christmas story in the second gospel for the following week… Click here to read at source where you’ll also find puppet scripts for the skits that accompanied each sermon.

When I began this series “Christmas According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” I invited the congregation to read through the story of Christmas as found in Mark. I could tell by some smiles that quite a number knew that there is no story of Christmas in Mark, no angels, no shepherds, no wise men, no manger scene, and of course no mention of all the traditions we tend to associate with Christmas. That a Gospel writer would miss entirely the Christmas story can be a good reminder to us that Christmas was not celebrated by the earliest of Christians with the same intensity we do today, much of how and when we celebrate being a matter of tradition rather than of obedience to the Bible. It also serves as a reminder that we ought not to think of the Gospels as “biographies.” A biography will often leave us inspired by a person while at the same time satisfying our curiosity by filling in the details of that person’s life. The Gospel writers will have failed in their quest if we find ourselves only inspired by Jesus, they instead want us to be committed to Jesus, and details can be irrelevant to that purpose. So Mark, likely the earliest written and definitely the shortest of the Gospels spares us the details and leads us straight to “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1 NRSV).

So does this mean that Christmas itself is not in Mark’s Gospel? Consider the following (I have included the passage below for easy reference):

  • Mark 1:2 points us to Malachi 3:1 which refers to the coming not so much of a Messiah figure but actually God Himself. That’s a very Christmasy thought!
  • Mark 1:3 points us to Isaiah 40:3, where again the way is to be prepared for God Himself to come. Again, here is the essence of Christmas, that this Jesus is “God with Us.”
  • Mark 1:4-5 makes reference to a lot of people involved in confession and repentance. If you knew that God was to be on your doorstop tomorrow in all His glory, how would you prepare? It takes neither a Bible scholar nor a rocket scientist to figure out that confession and repentance is best and most natural response to the news of God’s arrival. We see people doing that right at the beginning in Mark’s account and again you can hear that echo of Christmas: “God is coming to us!”
  • Mark 1:7 lets us in on the what John the baptizer knows – He is unworthy of the One who is to come. There is an incomparable greatness in the One who is coming which makes perfect sense if God Himself is that One.
  • Mark 1:8 has John saying that while he can only baptize with water, the One to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Who can do that but God Himself? Again, God Himself is coming to us.
  • Mark 1:9,10 points to Isaiah 64:1 where Isaiah prays “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (NRSV). Isaiah’s prayer is answered through the miracle of Christmas.

So is Christmas found in Mark? Yes, right at the beginning of his account where you would expect it! Mind you, if you read through the Gospel in one sitting you will have the sense that Mark would rather have us focus on Easter. While the earliest of Christians in New Testament times did not celebrate Christmas, or even Easter the same way we do today, they did celebrate Christmas and Easter – every Lord’s Day. Every Sunday is a special celebration! So Merry Christmas and Happy Lord’s Day!

Mark 1:1-11  NRSV

1. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;  3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”  4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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