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Advent 2011

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Mark 13:24-37
9am & 10.30am SMAS Services

Advent today! A time when we prepare for Christ’s coming – in two ways. We prepare to celebrate His first coming as a baby at Christmas. But we are also preparing to meet Him at His second coming.

  1. Jesus was born in a stable which was like a shed.
  2. There were three wise men.
  3. Mary rode to Bethlehem on a donkey.
  4. Jesus was Mary's first child.
  5. There were cattle in the stable.
  6. The wise men visited them in a house.
  7. The shepherds visited on the night Jesus was born.
  8. The wise men visited on the night Jesus was born.
  9. Mary thought deeply about the shepherds' visit.
  10. The wise men were kings of lands in the East.

Numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and 10 are myths, some of which actually may be true, but there’s no way of knowing! The others are biblically true. You’ll see that we actually do our Christmas teaching in an incorrect fashion in many ways but as the story has become condensed down over the years it is one of those things we have to go with – shepherds and wise-men all turning up together. That little quiz shows us how much we know about Jesus’ first coming so you might know more now how about how much more you need to do to prepare for that.

Of course you’ll be buying Christmas presents and planning special meals, but please make time to read your Bible,  and say some extra prayers, ask God to show you the light. Ask God to help you see what He’s doing in your world. If you don’t know how to pray or want to find a new way of praying or you want help with reading the Bible please ask – I can give you things to help.

How ready are we for Jesus’ second coming? In our Gospel passage Jesus is urging us to be ready for it. Do we understand His meaning?

Think about something that you consider was a really momentous public occasion. Something you remember happening that made you stop and think that life would never be quite the same again. Something like the assassination of President Kennedy or the death of Princess Diana? Maybe the democratic elections held in South Africa or the fall of the Berlin Wall? Maybe the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein or the death of Bin Laden or Gaddafi? Things that seem to reverberate all around the world because they are so important.

If I asked you to describe the fall of the Berlin Wall I wonder what sort of words and pictures you might use? Do you think that you might say something like “it was earthshaking” or “earth-shattering” for example? Now if we were to describe the fall of the Berlin Wall as an ‘earth-shattering event,’ someone in a couple of thousand years time might misread that as a reference to a literal physical earth quake rather than a momentous new situation in which East and West learned to live with each other.

A similar sort of misreading can easily happen when we read Mark 13 if we presume that in it the end of this earthly world is what is being talked about. The most natural first-century Jewish reading of it would be that it referred to what we would call ‘earth-shattering events.’ Jesus here is talking about the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem. This would have been almost unthinkable. A first century Jew would have thought that life must come to an end if the Temple was destroyed for it was the centre of their world. So what was meant by the ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken’?

Well, in AD69 they had four different emperors on the throne within a year (remember, of course, that the Roman emperor was the ruler of most of the known world), each one having got there by means of a military coup. Then, when Jerusalem was captured and burnt the next year, the only language that would be appropriate would be that of cosmic collapse. It was the end of the world for the Jews even though they still had to wake up each morning and somehow get on with life as usual.

So it’s not quite right to read this passage as if it solely refers to the end of the world because that is not entirely what was meant at the time. BUT you must not then conclude that this passage doesn’t have much to say to us because it does. There is actually a theological connection between the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem and the return of Jesus at end of time. We can trust that Jesus will return because this passage was a prediction by Jesus of what was about to happen in Jerusalem. It happened as He said it would - and He also said in the same passage that He will come again.Just prior to this passage (which we didn’t hear today) the disciples were asking Jesus about when the end times would be.

Jesus doesn’t make any attempt to satisfy their curiosity about it. His answer is a very practical one, translating their abstract questions into something personal and relevant to them - and indeed to us. The practical advice He gave was to warn them of 5 great spiritual dangers which I will summarise.

Firstly though let me explain that the disciples, Paul, and the early church seemed to think that Jesus’ second coming and the end of the world were about to happen in their lifetime. In fact they actually lived as if that were the case and this was the right thing to do. Jesus tells them and us to live as if He is about to return any minute now. That’s how we’re meant to live. That this prediction about the fall of Jerusalem was taken by them to mean the end of the world was a good thing because it made them live as if the end was nigh! And that’s how we’re meant to be living too!

Secondly, the Bible tells us that Israel was God’s ‘chosen’ people. Chosen to begin to spread the message of God. When God decided to reveal Himself in the world He had to start somewhere. Jerusalem was the chosen city and represented the focus of this chosen people, God resided in the Temple and what happened to Jerusalem and the Temple was a representation of what happened to Israel - the chosen people. What happened at the fall of Jerusalem was judgement. Today we know that we too are a chosen people - beloved of God. We are, however also going to be judged in the same way as Israel was for its disobedience and rejection of Christ. Sober thoughts indeed.

But Jesus gave the disciples some practical advice as to how to live before He returns. And because Jesus Himself does not know when that will be - only the Father knows - it’s advice that has to be acted. He tells them that there will be no time between seeing signs and the end to amend one’s life. When we see the signs it will already be too late. This is why He tells them about the fig-tree.

Most trees around Jerusalem then would have been evergreen but the fig-tree was deciduous and therefore lost its leaves in the winter. Jesus explains that you know that summer is near when you see the leaf buds appear. That is when you see those leaf buds you know that summer has already begun to arrive. Whenever it is that we see the signs of the end of the times it will already be too late to do anything about it. So we must live as if it’s about to happen now. The practical advice Jesus gave the disciples was to warn them of 5 great spiritual dangers. (This is in the beginning of Chapter 13).

Firstly, He warns them against relying on the outward incidentals of religion, however important and lovely they may be. The Temple was to be destroyed but that wasn’t important - the sacrificial way of worship at the Temple was no longer needed - Jesus had replaced the old way of worshipping.

The second danger was that of false teachers. How do you know a false teacher? Look in the Bible – does what they are saying accord with it? I’m sure we can all think of times when we’ve read or heard Christian leaders that are not preaching Biblical truths.

Thirdly He warned against being distracted by world turmoil around us. Many could be concerned that cyclones and earthquakes could be signs of the end of the age. If Jesus Himself didn’t know then we can’t. Our response to tragedies should be to pray for their victims and respond with practical help where we can.

Fourthly He warns against being tripped up by bitterness about being persecuted for our faith – as Jesus Himself was. Jesus says that will happen before the end comes because the gospel must be preached to all peoples.

Finally Jesus warns of false idols. In Jerusalem this was the Roman flags around the Temple. For us today it could be many things, materialism, obsession with having a perfect body – for the body is described in the Bible as our temple.

Jesus gave us signs for all times. And looking at what happened to Jerusalem and the Temple I know that we ignore His word at our peril.

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