Week of Feb. 27; Warnings that concern the coming of the Son of Man
By Rev. Teresa Edwards
Lesson scripture: Mark 13:14-27
About once a week, I pull up to the drive-in window at Starbucks Coffee. The voice of the friendly barista comes through the speaker with a warm greeting. I order my favorite skinny vanilla latte. At the window, that same barista hands me my cup, recycled cardboard sleeve and all. At the bottom of the cup in small letters, I read these words: “Caution, the beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot.” Starbucks warned me so that if I spill the coffee half a mile down the road and burn my hand, I have no one to blame but myself. Warnings come on coffee cups, mattresses, medicines and heavy machinery. Jesus speaks a word of warning as He overlooks the temple from the Mount of Olives with His four disciples by His side. Let’s listen in …
This messiah that Mark refers to as the Son of Man paints a dark picture of the future for the disciples who ask about signs to come. Mark 13, known as the Little Apocalypse, begins with a warning of false prophets, threats and persecution facing the disciples, and hatred among brothers. Finally, in verse 14, Jesus warns them: “When you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be, then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.”
According to Jesus, the desolating sacrilege points to a sign of great danger for the believer. “Sacrilege meant the violation of the Temple by the presence of non-Christian religious symbols and worship. God would forsake the Temple and leave it desolate. On that day it would be best for Christ’s followers to forsake the city as well as quickly flee to the mountains, without taking time to return home to pack.” (“Daily Bible Study”) When you see this sign, run – don’t walk – away from the city of Judea. Don’t turn around for your coat, or pack a bag for the road. This sign, paired with Jesus’ interpretation, offers practical advice about dangerous times to come. The warning of the desolating sacrilege also shifts the center of the faith from the Temple, which will be compromised and then destroyed, to Jesus, who will be raised up from the dead and then return in the clouds someday. “From now on, for Christians, the coming of the Son of Man in glory replaces the Temple as the locus of hope for the full realization of the Kingdom of God.” (“Mark,” Williamson)
To keep the center of our faith and hope securely fixed on Jesus, disciples need to be aware of the presence of the desolating sacrilege in our world and within our own hearts. Do today’s believers take Jesus’ warnings of the desolating sacrilege seriously? Living in a world that says, “Anything goes – to each his own – live and let live,” we are tricked into believing we can have it our own way and Jesus’ way too. Desolating sacrilege looks like compromised faith, both then and now.
How do we recognize that which has become a desolating sacrilege in our lives and the life of the church itself? So many times the little temptations of this world, that seem on the surface to be harmless, sneak in and set up shop in our heart without us even being truly aware. Am I willing to run, not walk, away from behaviors and attitudes that have become a desolating sacrilege in my heart? If the idols of this world find a place in my soul, then I need to run to Jesus asking for help to clean out the tabernacle of my heart. Once clean, we offer it all to Him as a holy dwelling place. As a class, consider what the desolating sacrilege might look like in your personal life and the life of the church. Ask God to guide and strengthen you to heed His warning to run away from that which takes your life and run straight into the arms of the One who gives you life.
Jesus’ word to the disciples literally jumps off the page: “Watch out! I have warned you ahead of time!” (Mark 13:23)
Be alert and awake, watching for my return. Trust me in the dark times. Even when the sun and the moon go out and the stars fall from the sky – keep your eyes wide open – for then you will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory.” Jesus’ promise to come back still stands.
God’s word assures us that Christ is coming back. The command to watch for His return speaks as strongly today as to the original hearers. Jesus’ first followers believed that He would return in their lifetime. When that did not happen, they attempted to develop a watchful life together, serving Christ and bearing witness as the church until He comes again.
Current views on the second coming of Christ tend to lean toward the extreme. Many Christians think little if any about Jesus’ return. Others adorn their cars with bumper stickers that claim their vehicle will be unmanned at Christ’s glorious return. How do we learn to be watchful as Jesus commands? Let us consider how the early church kept the faith as they waited and watched for the second coming of Christ. The New Testament reveals that they shared life together, studying and praying with the scripture. Through worship, they offered honor and praise to God. They sacrificially yielded their life in service to Jesus and to others. In watchful stance, they continued to preach the good news until Jesus would come back again. Following their lead, today’s church must watch, wait and witness until Christ returns at last.
Mark leaves us with a strong word that cannot be denied. Watch and heed Jesus’ warnings. Watch and walk in trust through the light and the dark. Watch and bear witness to a Savior who is “coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26) Listen to the warnings and embrace the blessings. Always remember this word of caution: the Christian life you are about to enjoy requires watchful eyes, brave hearts and obedient spirits! Don’t say you haven’t been warned!
Rev. Teresa Edwards is the associate pastor at Forest Hills UMC in Macon. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.