Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was selections from Mark 13:
America seemed to be obsessed with the end of times. The current craze is to say that the world
will end on December 21, 2012, because that’s supposedly when the mayan
calendar says it will end. There are
lots of problems with this, and I don’t have time to go into the answers, but
simply answer is I don’t believe. The
good news is if I am wrong, I won’t be here for you to complain to me about
it. But we are obsessed with this
stuff. Dr. David Morrison, who is the person who
answers questions that are emailed to NASA, says that he spends at least an
hour a day answering questions about the apocalypse. This
phenomenon also is strongly an American phenomenon, and has been with us since
Columbus and the Puritans, although we also export our ideas very well through
movies and television shows. And then there is our literature about the end of times, like The Late Great
Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, and of course there is the Left Behind series, and
the fact that Nicholas Cage has signed on to do some of the movies might just
be the sign that the apocalypse really is upon us But the one thing I will
point out is that while all twelve of the books, and the three prequels, have
been on the New York Times best seller list, they were on the fiction list, and
there is a very good reason for that, because they are fiction.
Now this is
going to be one of those sermon series where I might get myself in some trouble
with some of you, because I will be saying some things that might differ from
what you might have been taught or heard your entire life, especially if you
come from a conservative tradition.
Although it might appear from what we see in coverage of this topic like
there is only one way to think about it, and there is only one correct way, and
some will say that very thing, I am here to tell you that there is not, and we
will look at different ways to interpret what the Bible does and does not have
to say about the second coming or the end of times. I am going to give you what might be
considered a minority report that will contradict what we might be used to
hearing. But, if I say something with
which you disagree, please don’t come up to me afterwards and try and rebut me
point by point, or whip out your Bible and say, in such and such it says this… we really don’t have the time to do
that. Instead, I simply ask that you
keep an open mind, listen to what I have to say and if you disagree then that’s
I also must
say that this is going to be one of those sermons in which we are going to be
talking about a lot of big, sophisticated words, but I will define each of them
for us. We are going to use these terms
for several reasons. The first is that
the church is really good at creating these words, in fact the longest real
word in the English language is a word related to the church. The second reason is that I still have
$60,000 in student loan debt to pay from having to learn these words myself and
so I have to use them to justify that money.
The third reason is because it is important to know these words, even if
you disagree with me, then you’ll know what people are talking about when they
use these words in other contexts. And
the final reason is that I will give you something that you can talk about
while eating your Thanksgiving meal, and you can say something like, “at church
we were talking about premillenial dispensationalism” and perhaps, “you know
that’s not really apocalyptic instead it’s eschatological,” and everyone will
think you’re really smart and know what you’re talking about.
passage is known as Mark’s Little Apocalypse.
An apocalypse is a particular genre of literature that was prevalent in
the first century in both Christian and Jewish writings. For us, the best known, and perhaps least
understood of these in the Bible, is the Book of Revelation, and it is
singular, there is no s on the end, which is also known as the Apocalypse of
John. The Book of Daniel and some other
books also have apocalyptic sections in them, although none of the others are
full-blown apocalypses. Just like other
literary genres, apocalypses had certain characteristics and traits that people
would expect and that they also would understand.
If I was to tell you that Linda and I had gone to the movies
and saw a romantic comedy, you would know exactly what that meant even without
me telling you any of the details. Now
if I was to say that we saw a romantic comedy and the action scenes and special
effects were really spectacular, you might look at me a little strangely,
because those don’t go with the romcom genre.
And conversely if I said we saw an action flick and I told you that the
romantic story line was really good, that might seem a little strange as
well. We know exactly what these things
entail, and what to expect when we see them.
Well the same thing can apply to us when we look at apocalyptic
literature because it’s not something we are accustomed to, it’s not part of
our normal world view, but it would have been in the first century. They would have known exactly what the genre
entailed and what everything meant. I
think that part of the reason that the Left Behind novels are so popular is
because it takes what is incredibly difficult materials and tries to make them
easy to understand.
word apocalypse, or apocalyptic, really has nothing to do with the way we use
it today, which sort of deals with the end of time, so we refer to movies as
apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic.
Instead, apocalypse means unveiling or revealing. Apocalyptic literature seeks to reveal, or to
“explain, earthly realities through visions of heavenly truths,” and they don’t
all have to do with the end of times.
One of the most popular apocalypses in the early church, and one that
was included in many of the early lists of those books which were canonical,
that is they belonged as holy scripture, was the Apocalypse of Peter, in which
Peter is shown what happens to people in heaven and hell. A second type of apocalypse talked about the
coming of Christ, or the end of times. The
Book of Revelation happens to do both of these things. But, again while we apply the word apocalypse
to the end of time, the proper word that should be used is eschatology, which
means dealing with the end times. An
apocalypse is the revealing of these things, not the thing itself. If we are to say that there is to be a final
battle between good and evil, this is technically not an apocalyptic event, but
instead it is an eschatological event.
And if they are talking specifically about the second coming of Christ
then they are talking about the Parousia, that is the second coming.
What Apocalyptic literature wants to say is that when things
are at their very worst is that we should not give up hope, that God is
ultimately in control and God will redeem the righteous and the wicked will be
punished. In today’s passage, Jesus is talking
about the destruction of the temple, a common theme for the prophets, and we’ll
look at what biblical prophecy means next week.
This is actually the second Temple, after the first one had been
destroyed by the Babylonians, and it was one of the true wonders of the ancient
world. But what we must also understand
is that at the time that Mark is writing his gospel, Jerusalem is either under
siege and awaiting the invasion by the Romans who will destroy the temple, or
the Temple has just very recently been destroyed.
The Jews in Judea had risen up against the
Roman army, and after giving the Romans one of their worst military defeats,
Rome, under Nero, sent to full force of the imperial army against Jerusalem,
sending somewhere between 60 and 80,0000 soldiers. On their march to Jerusalem, they sacked
cities and burned the fields, causing widespread famines and starvation. Within the walls of Jerusalem, which were
considered impregnable, the jews battled amongst themselves for who would be in
control and how to approach a solution.
After a four year siege, some Jews began calling for a peace settlement,
and some tried to flee, but they were executed, and then the zealots set fire
to the storehouse of food supplying the city to let everyone know that there
could be no retreat leaving people to eat shoe leather, their belts, and
according to some accounts each other.
Finally the Romans broke through the walls, and as they made
their way to the temple, three different Jewish groups fought and killed each
other for control of the temple, until the Romans conquered it, destroyed it,
and carried the treasurers back to Rome, where Titus was given a triumphal arch
commemorating the event. In the end it
is estimated that 1.1 million Jews were killed during the revolt, and another
100,000 were taken into slavery. It was
nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, there were rumors of wars and
actual wars, there were famines, and there were earthquakes, and just a few
years later Vesuvius would wipe out Pompeii, so all of this had true import and
meaning for those who had survived and were suffering.
what Jesus says, and I think this is crucial to understand not only what Jesus
is saying here, and what John also says in Revelation and what Daniel says in
his own apocalypse. “This is but the
beginnings of the birth pangs,” Jesus says.
That means it will probably get worse, but is that what we focus on when
we talk about birth? Women might talk
about how long they were in labor for, and how much it might of hurt, but what
almost always follows at the end of it?
It was all worth it. That’s
because we don’t focus on the pain, but we focus on the end, we focus on the
birth of the child and what a wonderful thing that is. In France when a woman announces that she are
pregnant, or it become obvious that they are, people say “I congratulate you on
your hope.” I congratulate you on your
hope. Apocalyptic literature is not
about what is or might happen, it is not a blueprint about what the end of the
world will look like, instead its purpose is to reveal to us that God is
ultimately in control and that if we persevere through our pain and suffering
that the end result will be so much better, it is to provide us with a sense of
hope, a sense of purpose and a sense of assurance of God’s presence in our
“About that day or hour no one knows, neither
the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when
the time will come.” Here is one thing I
feel pretty confident in saying, if anyone tells you they know the day or the
hour that Jesus will return, they are lying.
If Jesus does not know, how could they possibly know? What I also think Jesus us trying to tell us
is that when we focus on the birth pains, or the things that lead up to them,
that we are being distracted from what and who truly matters. Our focus is not to be on the interim, it is
to be on the end, it is not to be on the suffering, especially sort of reveling
in other’s sufferings, our goal is to be on the hope and on proclaiming that
hope. Ours is not a gospel of fear and
terror and torture as some people would like to proclaim, ours is a gospel of
love and forgiveness and fearing not because there is eternal hope because God
is in charge of the world and God, not the power and principalities of this
world, will have the final say in our life.
In a few moments as we gather at the table we will make the
eschatological claim that Christ will come again, and on that we might all
agree, although maybe not on the details.
But he could come in ten minutes,
ten days, ten years or ten thousand years, people have been speculating about
that, and giving timelines, for the past 2000 years and so far they have all
been wrong, but here is the most important piece. Whether Christ comes tomorrow or in 10,000
years, at some point we will meet Christ, and the question for us is what we
are we doing to be ready, and I strongly encourage you to read Matthew chapter
24-25, which is in this week’s recommended readings, because Jesus says what we
must do to prepare for the questions that Jesus, or the master might ask of
Story of Steven severely burned, teacher goes in, nurses ask
what she said, and I thought if they were sending me someone to teach me that
there had to be hope….
And that will lead us into next week’s message when we will
look at the Book of Revelation and seek to answer the question, “Is this the
end?” which I think you can already
guess the answer to. Apocalyptic
literature is not about fear and terror, instead it is about hope. Hope for me, hope for you, hope for the
world, that God will write the final chapter and that God will provide the
final answer. May it be so my sisters
and brothers. Amen.