On Guard, Alert & Praying

How should Christians react to signs of the end of the age?
Let’s look at the purpose of prophecy and how Jesus encourages us to proceed.
We will examine, the second part of Jesus’ prophecy in Luke 21:25-36 and what he wants us to do about it.
Luke 21:25 “And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. 26 People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. 28 So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!” 29 Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. 30 When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. 32 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. 34 “Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, 35 like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. 36 Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”
(Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)
Signs (vs. 25-28)
Jesus begins this chapter with short-range prophecy about the destruction of the Temple, then moves to longer-range prophecies. Signs of Christ’s return are astronomical, international troubles, oceanographic, and terror. While the world cringes in fear of the coming of the Son of Man, we Christians are able to rise above fear. What is the difference? Those who are too tied to this world fear and mourn, whereas those who are expectant of a better world have faith and look forward to Christ’s coming. The term Son of Man comes from the book of Daniel. We should stand up and look with confidence, because literally “redemption” is near. We cannot know the day or hour, but we CAN KNOW that God’s kingdom is near. This is good news for those who believe Jesus and submit to his reign over our lives.
Faithful not Fearful (vs. 29-36)
Prophecy ought not make us fearful, but faithful. The analogy of a fig tree getting its leaves, indicating that summer is coming, indicates a different way of reckoning the seasons. Moderns like the day-and-hour concept of seasons. For instance, in the USA, summer 2016 begins Monday, June 20 at 6:35 PM EDT. We can also determine seasons by looking at plants and weather. In this way we speak of summer coming late or early. Jesus’ coming cannot be determined by the day-and-hour, but only by its nearness and it’s approach should spur us to readiness. The term “this generation” is not necessarily a length of time, but could also refer to fearful people attached to this world who resist the Gospel. That kind of people will not pass until Christ returns. Jesus encourages believers to be ready and in prayer.
Jesus’ Reappearing
Jesus is actually with us every moment, but he is hidden to our eyes "behind that invisible veil which keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scriptures, and our work with the poor.”1 One day we will see with our eyes. Heaven and earth will be one. At that time every knee shall bow, creation will be new again, the dead will be raised and the kingdom of heaven will be here in all its fulness. Before then Jesus speaks of signs alluding to prophecies like Isaiah 13:9-10; Ezekiel 32:7-8; and Joel 2:30-31. As this world and its institutions come to an end there will be two kinds of people, those who live in fear and panic, and those who live in faith.
1Wright, N. T. Simply Christian Why Christianity Makes Sense. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. Print. 219.
Positive Steps in a Negative World
Looking down at the world we see turmoil and negativity. Jesus says to stand and look up, for your salvation is near! Where are our minds’ eyes focused? If the fig tree pictures the Jews and any other tree the nations, do we see signs there that his coming is near? Jesus says that we can know that the Kingdom of God is near. Why are we sad about nations rising and falling, when we know that the present heaven and earth will disappear, but his words will never disappear? Our generation is familiar with horror; we see it on the news; some even enjoy it as entertainment; as a society we are weighed down with self-indulgence and worries. Jesus says, watch out! If we fall asleep spiritually, that day may catch us unaware like a trap. Keep alert and pray.
Stand and look up, notice the fig tree. We don’t know the day or hour, but we can know that it’s near. Watch out! Don’t be dulled, don’t be worried, don’t be caught unaware. Keep alert, pray to escape and stand before Christ.

Not an Earthly Kingdom

Does being a Christian mean that Jesus rules in our hearts or is there more to it?
Was Jesus king of the Jews? How does that compare to government leaders of this world? Where is Jesus’ authority from? And what is the truth of Jesus’ reign?
We will examine Pilate’s questioning of Jesus in John 18:33-37 and what Jesus had to say about his kingdom.
John 18:33 Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him. 34 Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?” 35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” 37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
(Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)
1. King of the Jews (vs. 33)
Pilate asking if Jesus was king of the Jews was not new. Nathanael called Jesus the Son of God, the King of Israel (John 1:49). A large crowd of Passover visitors hailed him as king of Israel (John 12:13). Pontius Pilate ruled the Roman province of Judea from 26-36 AD, as one of 30 different Roman Prefects, Procurators and Legates who governed during that time. The Roman province of Judea existed from 6-135 AD. Its capital was Caesarea on the northwest coast and not Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate was the 5th Roman Prefect. Archaeology and history record him as being an equestrian, a knight to us. As Prefect or military governor over the Roman province of Judea, calling Jesus king of the Jews could have been a political threat and enough for a charge of plotting against Roman rule.
2. Comparing Pilate and Jesus
Pilate represents the politics of this world, whether we call it monarchy, democracy or another government variety. He used his political power for selfishness even destroying those who got in his way. Jesus washed people’s feet and gave his life for them. Pilate caused terror. Jesus brings peace. Pilate's followers imitated his violence. Jesus' followers put away the sword of violence and hatred. Pilate governed by the will of Caesar, which could change any minute. Jesus rules by the will of God, which will never change. Royal families are viewed by their subjects in many ways from indifference and disdain to love and loyalty. French and Americans may view royalty negatively. Some view their monarchs as benevolent national parents who provide military protection, political unity and prosperity for all. How do we follow king Jesus and his politics of love?
3. Not of this World (vs. 36-37)
Though people may try to bring their Christian values into political office, the politics of this world is not the politics of heaven. Jesus emphatically states that his kingdom is not “of” or “from” this world. Like a lawyer bulldozing a case, Pilate only heard that Jesus admitted to being a king. Like both sides of politics, Pilate only hears facts that support his position. Did Jesus mean that he only rules in the hearts of men as some put it? Did Jesus mean that he is from above rather than from earth? The end of verse 36 clarifies it: literally Jesus’ kingdom is not “from here.” Coming from heaven, Jesus’ kingdom ultimately overrules all human authority. What if his kingdom was from here? Then his servants would fight for him, but Jesus had rebuked Peter for drawing a sword.
4. Love of Truth (vs. 37)
Do we stand for the truth, even when the truth is not what we want to hear? Historical revisionism is a phrase used in popular culture to mean a falsifying of history. It really means a simple re-examination of the facts. What some call revisionism is technically negationism, a denying of past history. Honest revisionism simply seeks to find the truth. An example may be asking whether Antonio Meucci or Alexander Bell invented the telephone or whether Christopher Columbus or Leif Erickson was the first European to discover America. What is true Christian politics? Is it based on fear or faith, hate or love, greed or generosity, selfishness or selflessness. Rather than worry, should we just accept that some may not be his sheep (John 10:26-27)? If we really love truth, do we recognize what Jesus says as true?
Unlike earthly governments, the government of Jesus comes from heaven. He is a king that loves his people and gives what no human government in the entirety of human history has been able to give, eternal life in joy and peace.

Don't Panic

Newspaper reporters would be frustrated with Jesus. He did not answer questions, but replied with more important issues of his own choosing.
What is the purpose of Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13?
We will discuss Jesus’ non-sequitur answer to his disciples’ question about when these things will be in Mark 13:1-8.
Mark 13:1 As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.” 2 Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” 3 Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately and asked him, 4 “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?” 5 Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
1. The Temple
The Temple was a “building of shining white marble and gold, with bronze entrance doors, it was said that you could not look at the Temple in daylight as it would blind you.”1 No wonder that the disciples were in awe of this architectural wonder. The Second Temple in Jerusalem existed longer than America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been nations — 420 years. The Temple was constructed stone upon stone (Haggai 2:15). Jesus’ prophecy that it would be completely demolished would have the same shock value as if we were to say that the greatest architectural icons of our nations would be destroyed. Complete destruction such as leaving not one stone upon another was familiar in ancient warfare. As we look at the magnificent structures our countries have built, let us remember by whose grace we stand.
1 http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/secondtemple.html
2. Deception
Jesus’ answer as to when these things would be was to avoid deception. Deception has always been around to lead us astray. Many would come in his name and say I am he? What name? Who? In the ancient world, using someone’s name meant the same as their authority. Jesus means salvation. From political parties masquerading as having Christian values, to televangelists who preach false gospels, to advertisers of products which purport to save us from sickness and drudgery, those who claim to be our saviors are everywhere. Jesus also warns against false prophecies, or a fearful attachment to prophesy, what some call prediction addiction. There will be wars and threats of war, but we should not panic. The end will not follow those things immediately. Even earthquakes and famines would come, but even that is not the end yet.
3. Patriotism
Just as with us, patriotism was a strong emotion among the Jews. Their land had been occupied by a hated, brutal enemy with a foreign religion. Many Americans and Australians fear that a foreign religion and foreign interests are invading our countries and the ugly sisters of patriotism, xenophobia and jingoism may grow even uglier. For Jesus to say that the Temple will be destroyed would have offended the disciples’ Jewish patriotism as much as anyone prophesying the destruction of the twin towers would offend both Australians and Americans. Despite some differences of opinion, both countries have always remained close friends and when the chips were down, have always fought together. Life in Roman Judea under occupation was difficult. The Jews wanted freedom. Imagine how hard it would have been to hear that something even worse was about to occur.
4. Prophecy Panic
The admonition not to panic is still relevant. Every generation has looked at these signs, predicted that Jesus would return in their lifetimes and so far they have all been wrong. Hopefully, apocalyptic prophets of America’s impending doom are equally wrong. Prophecy has basically four schools of thought: Preterists believe that this prophecy was completely fulfilled in 70 AD, with the destruction of Jerusalem. Historicists believe that this and other prophecies detail events of history. Futurists believe it is mostly still in the future. A fourth view is symbolic of the ultimate victory of good over evil. Jesus said no one knows the day or hour (Mark 13:32). The reason that most interpretation of prophecies of the past 2,000 years have failed, is speculation. We need to be so careful not let our imaginations run wild turning guesswork into fact.
5. Look for Christ not Antichrist
Christians panic and false prophets teach that the end is here. Jesus taught that it was not the end, only the beginning and that no one knows the day or hour. Jesus gives clarity. Today’s suffering is caused by sin. Be faithful in an evil world. Patience and faithfulness will be rewarded. During times of trouble false prophecies abound. Jesus’ purpose was not to detail the future, but to encourage faithfulness in the present. Jesus is basically saying that everything will be all right, that God is working on behalf of humanity. He wants us to be free and open to the future and not have our faith limited by fear of world news. We seem to worry too much about the fate of the world our parents knew. Jesus encourages us to watch in prayer, stay faithful and endure.
As things change, civilizations and monuments come and go. We are to learn not to put our faith in temporary things, but in the only thing that is permanent. “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17 KJV)

Two Kinds of Christian

In a world of non-commitment or partial commitment to God can a Christian be totally committed to God?
I want us to understand that our relationship with God involves our all.
Sermon Plan
We will discuss two kinds of Christian, the takers and givers in the context of Mark 12:38-44.1
Mark 12:38 Jesus also taught: “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. 39 And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 40 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.”
41 Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.
43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
1Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
1. Robes and Salutations (vs. 38-39)
Is there anything wrong with the scribes devotion to Holy Scripture, or wearing distinctive religious clothing and being greeted in public? Of course not, except when that desire is an outward show to elicit praise from men rather than pointing people to praise God. Scribes wore white to separate themselves from other people. They got in line ahead of the elderly and even their own parents. They loved titles and as they walked by, people were expected to rise respectfully. Yet, their job was not to give glory to themselves, but to God, and they failed miserably. Should we all dress in plain clothes like some Christians and avoid special titles because our job is to glorify God? Is it a matter of legalistically enforcing a dress code and avoiding religious titles, or is it a matter of the heart?
2. Religious Abuse (vs. 40)
Historically, Christians in Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches have been involved in financial corruption from misusing indulgences to fund-raise for Saint Peter’s Basilica to the confiscation of property, often by labeling the owners as heretics. So, we cannot judge the scribes as being any worse than some people in our own Christian history. Clearly, the use of religion for selfish and abusive purposes is nothing new. Sometimes the church is the Whore of Babylon and sometimes the Bride of Christ. The scribes were actually not well off financially and relied upon the good graces of wealthy contributors so they could concentrate on their work. The potential for compromising the message is ever present. Do we focus our faith on Christ and not on the ones who flatter or coerce us, demanding that we preach what they want to hear?
3. The Monetized Church (vs. 40)
It seems that everything today is “monetized,” filled with annoying in-your-face advertising. It seems that we cannot escape the ubiquitous money-grubbing brainwashing. Even within the church there are those who have fallen prey to the false Gospel of Mammon, selling seeds of faith like merchandise, and preaching health, materialism and wealth rather than self-sacrifice. Just like certain ancient teachers of God’s law, some today are not satisfied with the offering plate. Jesus described an ancient kind of misuse of money, those who devoured widows houses. Shamelessly cheating people out of property in the name of religion is nothing new. It is just one example of many ways to use religion as a scam for personal gain, money-changers in the temple. Jesus contrasted this greed among believers with a widow who was in it to give generously and not to take.
4. Total Commitment (vs. 41-44)
Can Christians be totally committed to very faulty churches? Most Christians will eventually be offended, disappointed or deeply hurt by the church. All churches are faulty. Some people choose to leave, looking for that perfect church. Others choose like the widow. As a member of that class of people who had been abused by these faulty religious leaders, how could she not be aware of the abuses? Yet, she did not worship mere human beings. It seems that she understood something remarkable. God in his wonderful grace, chooses to work through faulty instruments and even calls the church his special treasure and his bride. Jesus revealed some of the dirty underbelly of the Jewish church and an exceptional woman who, rather than walk away, showed the total commitment of someone who focused on God behind the scenes rather than people.
Summary: 2 kinds of Christian
Jesus reminds us of two ways of life: taking and giving. Some Christians miss the point here and think that Jesus is banning clergy clothing, public recognition, religious titles and long prayers. He is not making any such rules.  But, religious pretense can be used as a cover up for sins like self-promotion and exploitation. This is contrasted with a poor and needy woman who gave extravagantly. Most of us are probably not so selfish but also not so giving. We are somewhere in the middle. We may know of cases of theft from the church or exploiting the poor. Most of us are not like that, and not too many of us are like the widow, who gave lavishly what she could not afford. So, where do we lie between these two extremes? Are we more givers than takers?
There are two ways of life, one exemplified by those who seek prestige and wealth and the other exemplified by a woman who gave generously in self-sacrifice. Which way are we called to be living?

Are we all Saints?

What is a saint? Is it a really holy person? Is it someone who made it to the Christian hall of fame?
Let’s examine the biblical meaning of saint and the popular meanings given the term by the eastern and western churches.
We will look at the biblical definition of a saint and examine the simple two-edged rule that defines what a saint does in Mark 12:28-34.
Mark 12:28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”
34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
(Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)
613 Commandments (vs. 28)
A scribe asked Jesus a question. He could have been either a Pharisee or Sadducee. One of the scribes’ jobs was to make copies of the Bible by hand. The Dead Sea Scrolls, probably written from 408 BC - 318 AD, are a witness to the accuracy of the methods used by the scribes to check and recheck their copies. Asking about the most important commandment, we could assume he meant of the Ten Commandments. That may not always be the case. For example, let’s look at Mark 12:28 where Jesus was asked which is the most important of all the commandments. There are about 613 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact Jesus responded by not even mentioning one of the Ten Commandments, but other commandments from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18, to love God and neighbor.
The Principle of Law (vs. 29-31)
Christians and Jews can trip over fastidious attention to the letter of the law. Either divine law or human interpretation which becomes religious law can be used in a legalistic way not intended by God. Then as now there are teachers who understood that the principle or spirit behind God’s law is more important than the letter. The Shema Yisrael is still a morning prayer, named after the first Hebrew words in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “shemah Yisrael” (“Hear O Israel…”) and it teaches us to “love the Lord your God.” Well-known ancient godly leaders also taught that the principle of love of neighbor summarized God’s law. Love of God and neighbor are inseparable because love of God necessitates love of those whom God loves, regardless of human differences. The love God and neighbor is God’s nature and makes us saints.
Saints and saints
The Greek hagios means reverend, holy, set apart for God. Saint John means Holy John. Every Christian is a saint (small s), someone made holy directly by the authority of heaven, whereas a Saint (capital S) is someone recognized by local tradition or authorities on earth. Until 993 AD inclusion in a list of Saints was not formalized. Then the western or Roman Catholic Church began formalizing the official list with the canonization of Ulrich of Augsburg. As an interesting aside Saint Patrick is so-called because of popularity and has never been formally canonized as a saint. The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to acknowledge Saints recognized by local tradition in most cases. Many Protestants also use the term for famous saints to varying degrees. All Christians are saints, not by their own righteousness, but because God has made them holy.
Not far From the Kingdom (vs. 32-34)
The phrase there is only one God is the essence of Deuteronomy 4:35. The law expanded on the practical application of love in civic responsibility. Even simple laws like placing a fence around a flat roof were a way to show love by regarding the safety and health of others. Jesus response to a teacher’s statement, This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law, was to say that he was not far from the kingdom of God. It could be interpreted as an insult or a compliment, or both. Did Jesus mean that the man was almost there? Did he mean that he still had some way to go or that the man was closer than others? It definitely caused people to think and Jesus’ enemies were silent.

All saints are far from perfect, fellow human beings. As Christians they are set apart by heaven to follow a simple double-edged rule, love God and neighbor.