This past September was the 20th anniversary of 9/11. As the media revisited news reels, interviews, and photos in remembrance, I was struck by one of the pictures. It was a street level view of human suffering and vast destruction.
In the foreground of the picture were people, running. They were dressed in everyday clothes, but their faces were strained in fear. Their bodies covered in dust. In the background, was an ordinary street but, in the distance, you could see the collapse of the towers. As these people ran, they were being chased by destruction and debris.
I thought of that picture when I read the words of Jesus today. He pictures a horrifying horizon filled with deadly destruction, enough to make Christians run.
His disciples have just admired the stones of the Temple. Religious life is beautiful for them, certainly, but Jesus warns them it will all be destroyed. False Messiahs will arise to lead people astray. There will be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines.
This destruction will not only take place in the world, but it will also affect the Church. Believers will be persecuted. Churches which are family friendly will fall apart as brother delivers brother to death. Fathers will turn-in their children. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death.
The vision is horrifying. For the disciples, it lies in the distance. But, for every believer, I think it hits closer to home.
Somewhere, amid these visions of destruction, we see the ordinary pavement of our streets. After all, we are familiar with fires and droughts in the west, hurricanes and flooding in the east, wars, and rumors of wars. Families falling apart as faith conflicts with America's celebration of freedom from moral restrictions has become normal.
It would be easy to identify with those people, in the foreground of the photo, running away from destruction. Our faces are strained. Our bodies are exhausted. Our cry goes up, "How long?" We hope to survive as the world falls apart. Everywhere we look, there is suffering.
But Jesus is not calling us to look. He is calling us to listen.
Notice how Jesus punctuates His horrifying vision with words of comfort. “Do not be alarmed” (verse 7). “Do not be anxious” (verse 11). He speaks words of promise to those who are running from destruction. Amid this suffering, the Gospel will be proclaimed. The Holy Spirit will speak and even give you words to say. There will be an end to destruction and those who endure to the end will be saved.
There will be an end to destruction and those who endure to the end will be saved.
At this point in the gospel, the disciples do not yet know what it means for Jesus to be Lord. They have seen His miracles, they have heard His teachings, but they have not yet seen Him rise from the dead. In a few days, their entire world will have fallen around them. Jesus will be dead. Religion and its leaders will be thick with deceit. But then Jesus will appear, risen from the dead. He who took on the brutal forces of sin, died under the wrath of God, will rise to reveal the conquering power of God’s eternal love. He will be the source of life and everlasting salvation for all who believe and follow Him.
Such following, however, is often difficult. We can clearly see the destruction of our world, but we have a harder time seeing the work of God. But Jesus reminds us that no earthquake, no fire, no famine, no hurricane can overcome the grace of God. Christ will rule this world in the end. And, until that time, He calls us to hear His voice, to listen to Him speak. He will preserve His people.
Christ will actually do more than that. He will preserve His people, but He will also pursue them. I have always found comfort in Psalm 23. That psalm has so much goodness packed into it. The vision of the Lord as our Shepherd, the green pastures, the cool waters, the presence of the One who walks with us through the valley of death. But then, when the psalm ends, you have one more glimpse of comfort. The psalmist writes, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The word for “follow” there, means “pursue.” Until the end of our life, Jesus will pursue us with His love.
Though we see the world changing, the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, though in fear we run through the streets to escape the suffering, there is one thing we will never escape: The love of God. Jesus has risen from the dead and reigns until the end. He will call to you with His voice and pursue you with His love. As the world falls apart, rest assured, you are falling into the hands of Christ. Caught by His gracious love, He calls to you, today. “Do not be anxious.” “Do not fear.” Though you run, I will follow. In the end, I will welcome you home.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 13:1-13.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 13:1-13.