Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Living in the Shadow of Eternity

Mark 13:24-37

Mark 13 is one of several places in the Gospels where Jesus discusses the end times and his return. We come back to these passages at the end of one Christian year and the beginning of a new one. Last Sunday was the end of one Christian year, and the new one starts today with the first Sunday in Advent.

When we think of Advent, we think of Christmas and Jesus’ first coming. But his first coming and his second coming are inseparable. It is incomplete to think about one without also thinking about the other. The coming of Jesus as a babe in a manger in Bethlehem is incomplete unless we also think about his death and resurrection as our Savior in Jerusalem. Likewise, Jesus’s coming in humility is incomplete without his coming in glory on the clouds.

The context that sets this whole chapter in motion is the disciples’ awe at the enormity and splendor of the Jerusalem Temple. If my memory is correct, the Temple Mount in Jesus’ day was thirty acres of colonnades and courtyards. The mount was built up almost 100 feet above the surrounding valley, and the Temple stood another 90 feet above that. Some of the stone blocks used to build the Temple Mount were over forty feet long and weighed 100 tons. And the Temple was plated with tons of gold. It must have been quite the sight to see.

But Jesus shocks the disciples out of their awe by telling them that soon not one block would be left on top of another. Within a generation, it would be destroyed. A “generation” in Jesus’ day was 40 years. Jesus spoke those words in either 30 or 33 AD. We’re not sure exactly, but his death and resurrection took place in one of those two years. The Romans destroyed the Temple, and the rest of Jerusalem in 70 AD, after the Jews revolted against their rule.

This leads into a discourse by Jesus about the kinds of things that would happen in the end times: False messiahs, wars, earthquakes, persecution of believers, betrayal, signs in the heavens, and eventually, the second coming and the ingathering of God’s people.

Now, wait a minute: Doesn’t this mean that Jesus got it wrong? The Temple was destroyed a long time ago, and he has not yet returned.

No, Jesus didn’t get it wrong. You see, in biblical prophecy, events are linked together by type more than time. When similar events are mentioned side-by-side, that doesn’t usually mean that A happens and then B happens. The events Jesus describes

accompanying the destruction of the Temple are of a similar type to the kind of events associated with the end of time.

And these type of events were the kind of things expected by the Jewish people in connection to the Day of the Lord: wars, disasters, heavenly signs, and the gathering of God’s people. The Day of the Lord is the day that separates this world from the world to come. It’s a day of judgment when the world as we know it will be destroyed and replaced by the New Creation.

But Jesus also includes a prophecy from Daniel 7 in the context of the Day of the Lord: “I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into this presence. He was given authority, honor, and royal power over all the nations of the world, that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal – It will never end and his Kingdom will never be destroyed.” Jesus is telling us that the Day of the Lord, anticipated for centuries by the Jewish people, will also be the day of his return.

He goes on: Learn a lesson from the fig tree. A fig tree looked very dead in the winter. But when the leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these events, the destruction of the Temple, you can be sure that his return is very near, right at the door.

Jesus’ return is very near. It has been for almost 2000 years. It will be very near tomorrow. It will be very near next year. If the world goes on for another 1000 years, it will be very near then, too. We live our lives in the shadow of eternity. Christ could return at any moment.

Alternatively, we can go to meet him at any moment. Death is uncertain. We just don’t know when it will come for us. We don’t know how long we have. Any one of us could get run over by a truck on the way home. Maybe we feel that a little bit more right now, with the whole coronavirus pandemic. Most of the people who have died have been over the age of 80. And we can say, “Well, if you’re over 80, you know, you can’t expect to live forever.” But there have been many people much younger who have died from it, even a few children. Death is uncertain. We are not guaranteed even one more day in this world. We don’t know when Christ will return, and we don’t know when we will die.

Even Jesus didn’t know when he would return. When he took on human flesh, he laid aside the fullness of his divine knowledge and power. He doesn’t know when the Father will tell him, “It’s time.” Only the Father does.

And yet people keep trying to figure it out! It seems like everyone and their uncle knows when Jesus is coming back. Simply put, it is nothing less than blasphemous for us to seek after knowledge that belongs to God alone. So don’t do it.

Instead we are to live in a state of watchfulness. What we need is preparation for the return of Christ, not calculation of when it will happen. Jesus tells us that we are like the gatekeeper of a master who has gone on a trip and no one knows when he will return. The gatekeeper had an important job. They decided who and what would get in or out of the master’s house. We are each the gatekeepers of our own souls. What gets in? What comes out? Is the Master pleased with what is going in and out?

We don’t need to be afraid at the thought of Christ’s return, if we are living a life of watchfulness. All of life is a preparation to meet the King. We live a life of watchfulness by holding onto the truth in the face of false teaching. There will be many voices encouraging us to believe something other than Christ. We live a life of watchfulness by proclaiming Jesus and the gospel faithfully, even if the world doesn’t want to hear it. People need to hear it. People are hungry for a message of hope. We live a life of watchfulness by keeping our faith, even if it is unpopular or difficult to do so. And we live a life of watchfulness by living obediently to the words of the King.

We are wise to practice a regular time of watchfulness. At the end of the day, stop and reflect: Have my words, actions, and thoughts reflected the kind of life Jesus expects of his own? If not, how can I do better tomorrow? Because for all I know, tomorrow will be the day when I stand before the King and answer for the life that I have lived in his name.

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