Mark 13:14-23

“But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter.

For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days.

And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’ —do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything. Mark 13:14-23

You would think that it is much easier to remember the past than to predict the future but, in the reality of our lives, it isn’t as simple as that. Memories can be deceiving. Four children growing up in the same house will have four separate experiences and thus four different ways to understand their shared past. As for predicting the future, even stockbrokers are required to assure us that the future might not mirror what past experience seems to suggest.

This does make life much more complicated and mysterious than we prefer. We like answers. We don’t want anyone trifling with the understanding of the “past” that we are comfortable with. Just look at the varying responses to the removal of statues celebrating Confederate leaders. And we want clear direction for where we are going in the future – even if mindlessly following our GPS makes us take a wrong turn into a lake.

Many Christians read the apocalyptic literature in the Bible and see it as a roadmap to the future, to the second coming of Jesus. They play deciphering games with the symbols, numbers, and poetry. They see these verses as “predictive” of what will happen in the future in order to prepare people for what is coming. That isn’t my understanding but I can appreciate the allure for those who do.

I prefer to see these passages as “descriptive” of what has already happened. They were written to bring comfort and encouragement to people as they pass through difficult times. Rather than looking forward to the second coming of Jesus, I see them as faithful witness to the continual coming of Jesus.

The “desolating sacrilege” in the first verse likely reaches back to Daniel and the memory of the defilement of the Jewish temple under the Greeks.  After the victory of the Maccabean’s, the temple was cleansed and rededicated – only later to be defiled again when the Romans would demand daily sacrifices to Caesar. That memory was triggered when the Romans destroyed the temple in the more recent experiences of Mark’s readers.

As for “false messiahs”, we do well to heed this warning for there has never been a time when there hasn’t been voices calling out for us to follow them into the Promised Land. Idolatry requires false messiahs. Cults require leaders. Throughout history, politics and religion have coalesced to be primary sources for false messiahs that take our eyes off of Jesus.

In our day that might include Democrats who saw President Obama as God’s anointed leader to usher in a new day of hope and change or Republicans who weren’t repulsed by President Trump saying things like “I alone can fix it” or standing in front of a church holding a Bible upside down after sending in troops to clear the way.

Jesus tells us this morning not to be deceived. He has told us all that we need to know. He is the Past and the Future. He is with us now. All of us.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we are scared. We feel overwhelmed. It is as if the world is crumbling away under our feet. We are torn by the voices of those shouting for us to follow. We are afraid of a virus we can’t see and natural disasters that we can. Where can we run but back to you? Give us the faith, hope, and love that will see us through. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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