A moment for reflection
by David Cameron
Hope in apocalyptic times.
Mark 13 tells us that as Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. 9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
In the New Testament, early Christians faced persecutions and torture. Jesus' own crucifixion set the stage for the kind of martyrdom than many of his disciples experienced. The emperor Nero visited terrible persecutions on Christians. The words from Mark 13 provided hope for people facing these terrible events. Mark 13 is sometimes called "the little apocalypse." The book of Revelation provides an even fuller apocalyptic view of hope for people in despair.
I was struck by the use of the word "earthquake" in today's Scripture. According to my computer earthquakes are mentioned thirteen times in the Bible. In 1 Kings when Elijah meets God at Mount Horeb. Isaiah 29:6 where the Scripture says, "She will be visited by the Lord of Armies with thunder, with earthquake, with great noise, with whirlwind and storm, and with the flame of a devouring fire." A historical earthquake is mentioned in passing in Amos and in Zechariah.
Matthew 27:54 tells us that an earthquake occurred when Jesus was dying on the cross. Another earthquake occurred at the resurrection according to Matthew 28:2. Paul and Silas were in prison in Acts 16:26 when, "Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were loosened."
Then earthquakes are mentioned five times in the book of Revelation describing the cataclysmic events of the end times (Revelation 6:12, 8:5, 11:13, 11:19, 16:18).
Obviously, Biblical writers were fascinated by earthquakes, and referred to them often to make their point. An earthquake is a good image for cataclysmic times. Earthquakes threaten our assumptions about the stability of life. We like to think of earth as rock solid, but sometimes the earth moves. We expect the ground to be firm. We want our buildings tied to the bedrock because our foundations need to tie to something that won't move.
We are easily lured into thinking the same about our lives. We expect stability. We expect our lives to be "rock solid," but then something traumatic happens to shake that stability.
The image of an earthquake portrays our destruction as an "act of God." It pictures us as passive recipients of the disaster that hits. But most of the time the destruction is of our own making.
It was that way for the people of Israel. The major thesis of the prophets of old was that the Hebrew people were turning from God and bringing destruction on themselves. I find reading the prophetic books extremely difficult because they are prone to pile dire predictions of disaster on top of one another for chapter after chapter. In Amos the prophet couches the judgment of God in the repeated phrase, "For three transgressions of Moab, yes, for four, I will not turn away its punishment."
But then in chapter five, Amos explains that they have brought the destruction upon themselves through taking bribes, pushing aside the needy, trampling on the poor, and then offering an empty worship to try to cover up their misdeeds.
The prophet Isaiah wrote during the same time period as Amos. He witnessed the destruction of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians, a fate that would fall to the Southern Kingdom as well 150 years later. It was a devastating time. Isaiah uses earthquake imagery to describe the events: "The foundations of the earth tremble. The earth is utterly broken. The earth is torn apart. The earth is shaken violently. The earth will stagger like a drunken man, and will sway back and forth like a hammock. Its disobedience will be heavy on it, and it will fall and not rise again" (Isaiah 24:18b-20).
In Mark 13, Jesus speaks of the events of the end times. He says there will be wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes and famines, false messiahs and false prophets. Verses 24-25 say, "the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken." It's Jesus way of saying, "Everything is coming apart at the seams!"
But then he says, "but the end is not yet." The earthquakes of life do not have the last word; that belongs to God alone. At the last word, the difficulties of this life will be set aside and God will wrap up human history, right the wrongs, and reward the faithful.
Jesus ends our "little apocalypse" in Mark 13 with good news. He says, "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 13:27 Then he will send out his angels, and will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the sky" (Mark 13:26-27).
All of these dramatic messages about earthquakes end in hope. Hope is the essential ingredient for seeing us through earth-shaking events.
A volunteer tutor was asked to visit a nine-year-old in a large city hospital. She took the boy's name and room number and was told by the boy's teacher that they were studying nouns and adverbs in class. It wasn't until the tutor got to the boy's room that she realized the boy was a patient in the hospital's burn unit. No one had prepared her to find a nine-year-old so horribly burned and in such great pain. She felt she couldn't just turn and leave, so gathered her courage and entered the room. "Hi, I'm the hospital teacher," she stammered. "Your teacher asked me to help you with nouns and adverbs." And, clumsily, she launched into the lesson.
The next morning a nurse called the tutor. "What did you do to that boy?" The tutor immediately began a tearful apology, but the nurse interrupted her. "No, no, no. You don't understand. We've been very worried about him. But since you were here, he's fighting back, he's responding to treatment. It's as though he's decided to live."
The boy explained that he had given up hope, until the tutor came. "I figured they wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a kid who's dying, would they?"
He had regained hope.
When everything is coming apart at the seams, remember - God is not through with you yet.
A verse for each day for you, from members of the congregation:
"God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding."
Job 37.5 NIV
In times of trouble
"The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him."
"May the Lord lead you into a greater understanding of God's love and the endurance that is given by Christ."
2 Thessalonians 3.5 GNB
"with God all things are
"And the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever."
Isaiah 32.17 AV
Ask, seek, knock
"Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
Matthew 7.7-8 NIV
Children of God
"He came into the very world he created, but the world didn't recognise him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God."
A new creation
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here !
2 Corinthians 5.17
"We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in His love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them."
1 John 4.16
"In Sunday stars we read the story of Daniel, so here is today's verse from Daniel 6.23"
"The King was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God."
With all my heart
"Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead."
Psalm 86.11-13 NIV
His power made perfect in weakness
"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My power is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
2 Corinthians 12.8-9
Hope and joy
"Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles and pray at all times"
"May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations."
"I will proclaim your greatness, my God and King; I will thank you for ever and ever. Every day I will thank you; I will praise you for ever and ever. The Lord is great and is to be highly praised; his greatness is beyond understanding."
Lives worthy of God
Good morning, I pray that you are all well:
"For you know that we dealt with each of you as a Father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. Amen."
1 Thessalonians 2.11-12
Strength and joy
"Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place."
1 Chronicles 16.27 NIV
"For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age."
Ephesians 6.12 GNT
"By wisdom a house is built and by understanding it is established, by knowledge the rooms are filled with precious and pleasant riches."
The children of God
"You shine like stars in the universe."
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."
Power and love
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind."
Peace at all times
"Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you."
2 Thessalonians 3.16
"Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever."