Mark 13:1–11 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.” 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?” 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.
Sometimes I think about fairly ridiculous things. Alright. Alright. Since I’m coming clean, I might as well just be honest. It’s probably more than sometimes. It’s probably more like often. Take, for example, some thoughts that I saw wander through my consciousness when I was thinking about this teaching from Jesus. I thought about the mayhem it would’ve caused if, for example, Peter had live tweeted it. Even if Peter managed to avoid tweeting something impulsive (not sure he was really cut out for the smartphone era!) and actually did a bang up job I think the twitterverse would’ve absolutely lit up. I can only imagine the downer hashtags that would’ve immediately started trending after Jesus slams us here. I can see it now. #Jesusisamassivedowner or #JesusWWFstyleslamshisdisciples. I totally admit it. Sometimes I think ridiculous little thoughts, but I don’t think these are some of them.
This does feel heavy handed. And if it feels that way to us, just imagine what this must’ve felt like to the first disciples. If there was ever a moment for Jesus to come through with a ray of sunshine. If there was ever a time for him to reveal himself for the rabid optimist he was, this was the time. I mean it wasn’t just any old temple we’re talking about here. This was the temple where Jesus had flipped tables and had specifically called it his Father’s house. If there was ever a time to just enjoy the beauty and the grandeur of that temple this was it. That’s all it seems the disciples were harmlessly doing. “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (v. 1) “You’re right. It’s beautiful.” Would it have been so bad if Jesus had just admitted that? He could’ve just ran his hand along some of those massive and impressive ninety-foot-long and ten-foot-high stones and said, “Yeah, truly amazing. An architectural wonder!” Would that have been so bad or wrong for him to do that?
But Jesus? He drop kicks their statements like they’re toxic thoughts. “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (v. 2) And he delivers this statement with uncomfortable WWF style force. I’m telling you. Jesus couldn’t have been fiercer or more forceful with his comments. Did you notice he even sort of repeats himself here? Like slamming them once wasn’t enough? And you can’t see it in English, but in Greek there are some technical aspects to what Jesus says here that makes it even more forceful. It’s difficult to bring it out in English, but the idea goes something something like this: “Not a single stone will ever be left; every single one will be thrown down.” And then Jesus did a mic drop. He stopped teaching and just let what he said sink in.
There’s a reason why he had to do that. There was nothing innocent about the disciples’ comments. They weren’t just celebrating temple architecture. They weren’t just awed by the impressive stones or the beautiful facade. There was something far more fundamental going on. They wanted Jesus to believe with them that “as the temple goes so go we.” That idea – no matter how the prophets preached to the Jews – just refused to die. It was like the cat with 900 lives. Honestly, anytime the prophets tried to help the Jews get away from that idea they turned into spiritual two-year-olds who stuck their fingers in their ears and yelled, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 7:4) And so it was with great and tragic irony that just hours before Jesus would die the disciples were coming to Jesus with incredible optimism saying, “You’ve got to agree with us. Look at these buildings. Look at these stones. As this temple goes, so go we.” The disciples wanted Jesus to agree that the temple’s stones were saying, “Solid is the world’s future,” and that its buildings were preaching, “Upward is the world’s trajectory.”
Turns out though that we really don’t need a building to believe that about the world. All we need to be is human. Back in 1853 a Unitarian preacher by the name of Theodore Parker in a sermon entitled “Of Justice and the Conscience” said, “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one… But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.” And then the Great Depression came. And then World War I showed up. And then World War II arrived and the Holocaust happened. And despite the fact that the world had almost gone up in flames around us three times in row people once again started to say, “We’re on our way up! We’re going to get there.” Even today while Syria burns and refugees inundate Europe and California gets sucked dry of water while two feet of water douse South Carolina, optimism remains. Do you see what that is? That’s classic denial. And it’s easy to understand why it exists. We have a great tendency to deny the downward trajectory of the world because if we don’t we have to admit there’s something horribly wrong with it and with ourselves. We’d have to admit there’s sin in us.
So Jesus drops the mic on us. To break us loose from our denial. So we believe. And not just what he says about the temple or the trajectory of the world or sin in ourselves, but primarily what he says about himself. See, the Jews were within a hair’s breadth of getting it right. Their idea that “as the temple goes so go we” was a razor thin margin away from being completely correct. Their only mistake? They had the wrong temple in mind. They couldn’t yet see that a greater temple was right in front of their eyes. That there was a higher temple that would determine their personal futures and make them good. That there was a true and final temple that would always and only preach, “Upwards is your personal trajectory.” They couldn’t yet see that, “The temple he (Jesus) had spoken of was his body.” (John 2:21) And this temple? It was so much greater. It didn’t need annual or daily animal sacrifices to deal with sin. It needed just one great sacrifice. And this temple, the body of God himself, made atonement for you. This temple made a perfect payment and crushed sin and won forgiveness for you. All by itself this temple would justify you before God once and for all. And that’s why it’s true that as this temple goes, so go we.
And how does this temple go? Think of it. This temple died in this world to live in the next one. This temple was torn down here and rebuilt for the next one. This temple was wrecked here, but now lives there in glory. As this temple goes so go we. When by faith we get connected to the true temple, Jesus’ body, as that temple goes, so go we – all the way to glory! And part of what that means is that this world must go out so that we can live in the new one. And, yes, Jesus did use the word, “must,” (v. 7) when he talked about these things. This world for our sake must have a downward spiral. In fact, in that way it’s actually a lot like giving birth. And, no, I didn’t cherry pick that metaphor. It’s the one Jesus used when he said, “These are the beginning of birth pains.” (v. 8) So the pains will come more quickly. And the pains may even become more intense. And that can only mean one thing. That new glorious world we’ve been talking about? It’s getting closer and closer and closer.
That’s what’s happening and we get that. We don’t have to be alarmed or panicked or worried. Not of a rumor of war. Not even of war itself. We’re ok. This is all part of the deal. It’s all just birth pains. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” (v. 8) In other words, it’s not realistic to expect a one world government anytime soon. And it’s not realistic to hope for a permanent or long-lasting geo-political stability. And it’s not because Jesus isn’t somehow over the top of it all, it’s simply because we’re in the birthing suite. And politics aside. We shouldn’t even expect the environment to perform well. Expect that it won’t. Expect that the great biological and ecological and geological systems will start to dramatically unravel. Expect that there will be, “earthquakes in various places, and famines.” (v. 8) That’s how it will be and that’s how it has to be. It’s all part Jesus’ work of bringing us into the new world and the glory he’s promised.
But aside from understanding that, there is one thing – one incredibly important thing – that we must do as these things happen around us. It’s this: “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (v. 5) And, no, that’s actually not coming out the blue. It’s perfectly related to everything else Jesus tells us here. It really shouldn’t surprise us. If the political and biological structures are going to topple around us, why should it surprise us to see that happening in the realm of the religious. It shouldn’t. It shouldn’t surprise us that the most viral beliefs will be just that: viral – a kind spiritual virus. Listen to what Jesus said, “Many will come in my name saying, “I am he,” and will deceive many.” (v. 6) Many will come to deceive. Many will be deceived. Do you see how Jesus bookends this? Do you see what he’s up to when he does that? He’s trying to open our eyes and shock us and really get to us. Many will deceive. Many will be deceived. And just to be clear. Jesus probably isn’t only referring to David Koresh or Reverend Sung Yung Moon or the Heaven’s Gate cult or anybody else who says, “I’m the Christ.” He’s talking about those people, but not only those people.
I point that out because when you hear this teaching I want you thinking about a whole lot more than what happened to those 82 people in the Branch Dividian cult over there in Waco. I want to give you a deeper understanding of what Jesus is saying here and make you a savvier Christian. Jesus is clearly suggesting that deceptive preachers will primarily come bearing the Christian name. That’s exactly what he said. He said they will claim to come, “in his name,” and will probably very sincerely say, “I’m the guy. I have Jesus’ teaching.” So, yeah, this means that Yelp isn’t exactly going to be a helpful tool for finding a church. A big or even a small, but excited fan base for a church isn’t exactly the right test for true Christian teaching. You know what else this means? It’s sort of the obvious and in your face application here. Don’t believe me. Seriously. Don’t believe me. Just a word to the wise. It’s probably not a good strategy to stake your eternity what some guy with the last name Bourman is spouting off about today. Don’t believe me.
But Jesus is also clearly implying something to us here when he tells us to watch out? Do you know what it is? He’s implying that his teaching is somehow known so you can do that. Do you see that? He’s, in fact, implying that you can know his teaching so clearly that to you it’s not just some fuzzy, ethereal maybe-we-understand-it-maybe-we-don’t kind of teaching. That’s it’s so clear. That it’s so abundant. That it’s so massively available that you’ll be able to know who’s trying to deceive you. You know what else he’s saying? That it’s worth doing that. That his message is worth defending and knowing and believing in a profound, profound way. And why? I think you already know. His Word doesn’t just describe true life to you. It’s gives it to you. It warns you and convicts you of sin. It comforts you and thrills you with grace. It gives you supreme confidence that as Jesus goes so go we. This – by the way – is the only thing Jesus promises will go right as this world heads for the exits. And is, in fact, so incredibly insistent about that he uses the word, “must,” to talk about it. “The gospel must first be preached to all nations.” (v. 10)
You know what this means? It means that if you’ve found a preacher who’s not only sincere, but also truthful you’ve found a place to be. And not only that, you’ve found a place to treasure as something a whole lot rarer than maybe you ever knew before – a place so rare that Jesus had to make a special promise about it so you wouldn’t despair of its existence. You’ve found a place where Jesus will give your soul life. That’s all we do here. That’s it. Peace exists to be a place where the gospel is preached and believed with boldness and clarity. And to whatever extent we truly succeed in that we will be a church worthy of bearing the name of the Reformation – the original return to the true teaching of the gospel. That’s why we’re named Peace Lutheran. But even better and even more importantly, we will be a church worthy of bearing the name Christian – a church where the gospel that Jesus died to win still lives. And that gospel? We will live on it. We will live on it in the most profound of ways even if and when the religious, political, and ecological systems collapse around us. Because finally? We believe that as Jesus goes, so go we. And that means glory for you in a brand new world.
It makes me wonder. What hashtags would trend if Peter were here right now live tweeting this preaching event? Would it be #TheReformationliveson? Or #Returntothetruegospel. Or better yet #AsJesusgoessogowe? I totally admit it. Sometimes I have totally ridiculous thoughts, but hopefully these aren’t some of them. Amen.