25th Sunday after Pentecost—Year B—November 15, 2015
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Chesapeake
Let the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
As I warned you last week, we hear Jesus this Jesus foretell the destruction of the temple, and he goes on to say that the coming wars, earthquakes, and famines are only going to be the beginning of the “birth pangs” the devastation that will come before the final in-breaking of the kin-dom of God. Many call this portion of Mark’s Gospel “the little apocalypse.” And Jesus is by no means the only one ever to pontificate about the end of the world…or as we have come to talk about it…the apocalypse or Armageddon.
Fun fact: these terms did not originally apply to the event itself. The word Armageddon appears once in the New Testament, in Revelation 16:16. None of the twelve mentions in the Old Testament refer to any prophecy or prediction. It is place, “har” in Hebrew meaning “mountain” and “Megiddo” being a well-known location in the Northern part of Israel. I have actually been to Megiddo, and it is not actually a mountain by common definition, but a hill that was built up over time by successive inhabitants building on top of previous settlements. Megiddo has been a key location to defend for many civilizations and many ages as it is along the main landed trade route running North/South, connecting Africa and what we know call Europe. Because of its location and importance, it has been the site of many great battles, which is one guess of why it is mentioned in Revelation. People of the day knew that great battles had taken place there, and so it was easy to imagine that THE great battle—the end of the world would take place there. Over time, the name of the place “har meggido” has become synonymous with the battle to come, and so we commonly refer to the end of the world, the event, as Armageddon. Just think of the 1998 film of that name starring Bruce Willis & Ben Affleck.
Similarly, our use of the word apocalypse is not exactly what the word literally means or how it was used biblically either. Instead of referring to the event itself—the end of the world—an apocalypse is simply a telling about it. From the Greek, it literally means, “uncovering” or “revealing.” As in the book of Revelation, we hear a description about the end of the world as we know it as it was seen in a vision, but we also hear of a dream depicting the end of the world in the book of Daniel, but Jesus also gives us an apocalypse in the synoptic gospels—about the destruction of the temple and the coming of the Son of Man.
When asked “when” by the disciples, Jesus warns them not to be led astray and proceeds to never directly answer their question. He does say though that bad things will lead up to it—war, earthquakes, famines will just be the beginning.
This is not much to go on, but it hasn’t stopped people from doing it. I can’t tell you how many times someone has predicted Judgment Day in my lifetime—December 21, 2012, Harold Camping’s prediction (and revised prediction), Y2K, etc—let alone throughout the history of the world. I have spent way too much time this week reading about such predictions online this week.
Honestly though, when has there been a time in the history as we know it that there weren’t wars, famines, and major natural disasters.
Still, predicting the end of days can be interesting to think about and surely read about, but what does it really gain us?
If you knew when Jesus was going to return what would you hurry up and change?
Why not change those things now?
We cannot be sure of when. Unfortunately Jesus reminds us of a thing we can be sure…
- Bad things happen
- Famines, war, natural disasters
- Illness, death, devastation
- We even got another reminder this week in Paris–gun shots, explosions, terror
- My common refrain when such things happen is “Come Lord Jesus, Come” i.e. “hurry up already”!
But Jesus throughout his ministry also reminds us that God is ultimately in control, and that because of his death and resurrection, the End will is not actually the end of everything…just things as we know them.
So this week, I pray that we might take some further advice from the letter to the Hebrews on how to spend the time we have left: “let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrew 10:23-25)…for even though we don’t know exactly when, the Day is approaching, but also it is just the good and faithful thing to do in response to God’s love and promises. But above all, let us ever stay focused on what we know for sure, especially when reminded of all that we do not know for sure…in the words of Hebrews: “let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” Amen.