Mark 13:24–37 (NRSV)
The Coming of the Son of Man
(Mt 24:29–31; Lk 21:25–28)
24 “But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
(Mt 24:32–35; Lk 21:29–33)
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
The Necessity for Watchfulness
(Mt 24:36–44; Lk 21:34–36)
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Yesterday I read an article on line about how to survive a mid-life crisis. I am not going through one just so you know, the title of the article was just funny so I looked at it. In this article it spoke about the emotional reactions to corporate downsizing, medical bills, and other random situations that happen when people become adults and suddenly have to face stressful situations. I really did not learn anything from the article that I did not know already but I did have a few snickers while reading it. There are many situations that we face in life that seem to devastate us. In the moment it feels as if our entire world might just be falling apart. Nothing we planned seems to work out, everything we try seems to fail, we get in ruts and have a difficult time trying to break free.
This happens in our personal lives but it also happens on a larger scale, in a community, in nations, and even globally. Today’s passage speaks to us in those situations. Wait you might say, isn’t this passage about the end of days? Yes and no. It is apocalyptical writing, but apocalypse can mean many things. For the most part this form of literature is emotionally if not terrifying writing used to express seasons of change. It is a tool used to shock the emotion to consider things from a different perspective. Along with this style of writing is a prophetic voice, holding within it divine words that speak of what could happen if we are not mindful of our current cultural trajectory.
I do not know what draws us to Apocalyptic stories. It is probably because there is within the story this struggle between good and evil, and everything seems to be against the hero of the story. We want to see them overcome, but then we also want to see a massive crash. This is pretty much the draw of NASCAR, there is an apocalyptic story in auto racing. The prophetic message is that when traveling at high rates of speed in bumper to bumper traffic someone is going to do something stupid and cars are going to spin out of control, there will be screeching tires, twisted metal, and a high likelihood of fire. I could say the same thing about a hockey game, many people go because there will be a fight. The prophetic message there is when people are traveling on ice with knives attached to their feet, while wielding clubs that are to be swung at a frozen solid piece of rubber chances are that someone is going to do something stupid and emotions are going to flare up, and someone is going to drop their gloves and throw a punch.
We love apocalyptic stories. This is why the left behind series gained so much attention. It is a story about all those people that should have done something different and now they are facing trials that we have all told them about. The problem with these stories is we only like them when they happen to someone else. They are not so fun if they are happening to someone close to us, and it is even worse when it happens to us.
Jesus tells his followers that after the suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. The stars will fall from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. The end is near. But what is Jesus saying? Yes, he could be saying that literally the sun and moon will be dark, and the stars will no longer be seen. It could be a prediction of a massive super volcano erupting sending clouds of ash into the sky that would block the light of the sun, and that along with this massive volcano rocks could fly through the air and crash down on the earth causing massive earthquakes and even more volcanic eruptions and again ash filling the air so that the stars could no longer be seen. All of this could happen. There are many scenarios where these very things could happen. This is why NASA watches deep space to see if there are asteroids traveling toward the earth. Because if a large object come close to the earth it could affect the gravitational fields of earth that could potentially cause disruptions within the earth that could potentially cause extinction level disasters.
Jesus could be talking about that. But there is another thing he could be saying too. He could be telling us that everything we thought we knew will suddenly be turned upside down. We know the sun and moon should give light, just as we know if we work we should get paid. Stars should shine just like if you are hungry you should be able to obtain food to eat. But If the people of ancient Israel were to continue down the current path they are on everything they know to be true will be found suspect. Jerusalem was on a fast path to destruction yet they did not want to see it. All the various factions within the nation were seeking out their own interests which was causing social unrest which placed them all on the road leading to war. When that war comes everything, they held dear would be demolished.
And the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Consider this phrase. And the powers in the heavens will be shaken. This phrase holds within it something very important, it almost sounds like the question, “Where was God?” It is a question to what we are really putting our faith in. If a person’s life revolves around their career and they find themselves in a situation where their position has become redundant and they are downsized, then their world has fallen apart. Everything they based their life and value on no longer exists. They are unemployed. They may have been a spiritual person, they might have even been religious, but if their value as a human being is fixed on their career and that career is gone they begin to ask where is God? Where is their faith? They had great faith in themselves and a company then they had in God. God was not at the center of their life but was on the periphery. Their world is shaken, and they even begin to question if God cares. This questioning of God is not a sin in and of itself. There are many times in life that we question God. It is part of a relationship. If we are to gain an understanding at times we do have to ask questions. We sin when we allow that question to draw us away from God to the point we no long ask questions. Those are the powers in the heavens being shaken.
Apocryphal writings have this aspect of terror, they have a prophetic voice, but they also have a sliver of hope for those that endure. From the fig tree learn its lesson. For me this statement is that glimpse of hope through the trial. Jesus is urging us to study, to examine, to enter into some sort of a conversation within that situation. Learn the fig tree’s lesson, Jesus says, watch its life cycle take notes and apply it to your lives. Written within the very DNA of every living cell is a testimony speaking volumes, remember the mysteries of the universe are in a mustard seed. There are seasons in life, times of abundance and fruit, and times of dormancy. There is a time where a tree appears dead, the leaves have lost the vibrant greens and have dried out and fallen to the ground, and the branches stand barren in the harshness of winter. But continue to watch the tree. Eventually, the branches begin to absorb more water, they become more flexible and soon the leaves will begin to emerge. Learn the lesson the fig is trying to teach you. Just as the teacher said in Ecclesiastes everything has a season under heaven. Jesus wants us to learn to gain knowledge and wisdom. He encourages us to observe and to question. He wants us to take a step back at times and consider things from a different perspective.
Jerusalem would fall within the lifetime of many of those disciples. Many of them witnessed the heaven shaking events that brought down the walls of the temple. And they began to ask questions. How can life go on without the temple? How can life go on without a career? How can life go on if a loved one passes away? How can life go on if a spouse decides that they can no longer stay in a relationship? Where is God? Jesus answers, “Heaven and Earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.”
His words remain. A land owner was going to go on a journey so he gave each to one slave five talents, another two and another one talent, to each according to their ability. The one with five talents went out using his five talents and gained five more. Likewise, the one with two talents. The slave that was given a single talent buried the talent in a hole. When the master returned he brought the men before him and settled the accounts. Two presented their master with a profit, because they knew his business and because of that they were able to continue the capital stream. The third did not fully grasp the landowner’s business and out of fear he buried what was given to him. This story we read in Matthew a few weeks ago, and the same story echoes here in Mark. A man goes on a journey and he leave his slaves in charge to continue the business.
These slaves, these servants of the master, are left to continue the work of their lord. For this to happen they have to know the master and know what his will is. Jesus tells his disciples that there are things approaching that will shake you to the very core of your being, the world will seem to be turned upside down and what might have known may not be reality. When that happens, remember his words, because in those words is life.
We do not know at what moment our world will seem to collapse around us but we do know that there will be seasons in life. We do not know exactly what heaven shaking event we will have to endure, but we do know that there will be trials. How will we face them? We face them not alone but with Christ. Who came to us as a baby and grew to be an adult. A man that face every trial that we ourselves faced yet did not sin. He showed us a lifestyle of life with God: he made it his custom to worship in the synagogues, he withdrew often to the isolated places to pray, and he had compassion and mercy on others so he encouraged and ministered to them. Jesus says stay awake, be mindful and vigilant. We do not know what our future will hold exactly, but we do know what is expected by God. We too are to put on the lifestyle of Christ a lifestyle that through his death and resurrection has the power to overcome even our greatest fears. Keep watch, stay awake, and listen to your master’s will so when the time comes you can continue to walk. Feeding the hungry, giving drink to those in thirst, clothing those that are naked, welcoming the stranger and caring for the sick and imprisoned. Keep watch, and continue to do the work of our master, so when that day comes we can stand before our king and tell him we remained in his word and applied those words in every aspect of our lives. Stay awake, and keep working. Find ways and opportunities to share the hope that you have through Jesus.
We all faces trials, tests, and character building situations. At times those trials seem to shake everything we know, but something remains to give us hope. The lesson of the fig tree, that all things pass, and everything has a season. Don’t loose hope instead keep watch and study, observe others and wait in holy expectancy. Then be obedient to the call and minister where you are called and where you are. Put on the lifestyle of Christ and be blessed with the hope that through all our trials we are not alone but have an advocate teaching, guiding, and interceding for us all. Let us enter this time of open worship, listening to the eternal words of Christ and staying vigilant to act accordingly even when heaven shakes all around us.