There are certainly some very beautiful things to see in our country and other places around the world. In Europe there are castles and churches that have stood for centuries. They existed long before Australia was known to the rest of the world.
It is an amazing feeling to walk on a set of steps where kings, princes and popes walked centuries ago.
It is amazing walking around Luther’s house in Wittenberg and walk through the rooms where Luther and Katie lived, worked, played with their children, and talked theology with students.
It is a wonderful thing to walk around a medieval village weaving along the narrow streets and stumbling on the cobble stones knowing that people 5 or 6 or 7 centuries ago went about their daily tasks along those streets and were born, lived and died in those houses. I guess I’m a bit of a history buff and it is remarkable experience to walk amongst buildings which here in Australia we only read in history books.
St. Mark’s Gospel locates us in Jerusalem, near the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus and his disciples were leaving one of the most magnificent structures in biblical times. The disciples couldn’t help but marvel at its majesty.
The temple had been torn down twice by invading armies. King Herod undertook the rebuilding, expansion and beautification of the temple at about the time of Jesus’ birth. It was completed about the time the incident recorded took place. It was acknowledged as one of the most beautiful building complexes in the entire world.
There were gates and arches, tunnels and stairways, the stones were gleaming white with extensive gold overlay. The outside was decorated with marble walls and columns. The eastern side of the temple was plated with gold and the ten gates into the temple were covered in gold or silver. It must have been quite a sight as the gleaming white marble and stunning metal work flashed in the Middle Eastern sun. For the people of Jerusalem the temple was a sign of the glory that would return to Israel.
The disciples were obviously impressed and overawed at the sight of this remarkable building. “Look Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (v. 1).
What Jesus said next almost amounted to sacrilege.
“Do you see these great buildings?” he said. “There will not be left here one stone on another, which will not be thrown down” (v. 2).
What a thing to say! This magnificent house of God would be destroyed! This was completely unthinkable.
If that isn’t bad enough, Jesus goes on to talk about the end of all things. He warns the disciples,
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be troubled. For those must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines and troubles. These things are the beginning of birth pains” (Mark 13:7-8).
The whole of chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel contains all kinds of signs that will indicate when the end is near. He warned about times when the followers of Jesus will be persecuted and brought before judges and kings. Family members will turn against each other. (Mark 13:12).
He told of unnatural things happening in the heavens. “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” (Mark 13:24-25).
Peter, who was there that day admiring the temple, adds, “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). Jesus gives all kinds of signs when the end will come near, but at what precise moment these things will happen; only God the Father knows.
We have seen a lot of these predictions come true – there have been wars, and earthquakes, natural disasters of all kinds – floods, famines, drought, storms, tsunamis, you name it. It’s obvious that there is still more to come. Christians have been persecuted and these will continue to happen. In fact, if we take seriously all the predictions of the Bible about the end of the world, we are left with a terrifying picture of “the coming of the day of God, which will cause the burning heavens to be dissolved, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” to use the word of the apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:12).
It would seem that everything solid, even something as solid as the temple,
every human relationship even the people close to us in our families, every thing that we put our trust in, every thing that we love in this life, every thing that we thought would go on forever, will all be suddenly wiped away when the end of the world finally comes.
The disciples thought that the temple would stand forever but it would be just a few short years and the Romans would strip the temple of all its precious metals and tear it down stone by stone, never to be rebuilt again.
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Scary, isn’t it? Things that we think are so permanent in our lives, in actual fact, are only temporary. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without those things and those people that give us the sense of security and permanency. The things we own, our wealth, our accomplishments, all the things we think are important really are very temporary. In a moment they can be taken away and ‘the rug is pulled out from under us’ so to say. We discover that the things that we thought were so solid and important are not the things that we can really rely on.
I have been told on many occasions by people with serious conditions in hospital beds that they had come to the conclusion that all the things that they once thought important were not important at all. None of those things could prevent their cancer or even their death. All the things that were so important to them before their illness have no relevancy whatsoever to their current situation. Even the doctors can’t provide the permanency that we would like.
It is then that faith in Jesus and the assurance, comfort and the hope that he offers is all that matters. The promises of Jesus that we have heard a thousand times before suddenly take on new meaning and importance as all the other things that we once thought important are relegated to the sidelines. Our God and his promises of love, strength to endure, and the joy of eternal life in the end are all that we need.
This is what Jesus is really getting at when he says, “There will not be left here one stone on another, which will not be thrown down.” As wonderful as the successes and the things of this life are, they are not permanent. And we are so easily led by the lie that the things of this world are so important and that we could never exist without them. Just go to a Third World country where there are no wide screen TVs or electric gadgets; there is not even electricity and clean water yet the people are still happy even though there are so many uncertainties in their lives. They don’t need these things to be happy. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be grateful for the pleasures and joys that we have in this country, but we need to be careful that being happy and contented does not depend on these things. Paul talked about being content and satisfied at all times no matter whether he was in need or had enough. What gave him true contentment was knowing Jesus and his love and with that he could face all kinds of conditions.
He said this,
“What things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).
When Jesus talks about what will happen in the future, I don’t believe for one minute that he is telling us horror stories to terrify us like kids huddled around a campfire listening to scary ghost stories. He is simply pointing out what we so easily forget. Our journey through life in this world is short, we are travellers passing through, and that our true home is in heaven and our true wealth is knowing Jesus’ love and care for each of us.
The biblical writers have recorded the details about the end of the world to reassure us that in the end what is important is not so much what is coming but who is coming. Jesus says, “Then the Son of Man 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 13:27). This fulfils the promise that Jesus made, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also” (John 14:3).
The lead up to the end of the world might be scary in one sense but Jesus will always be ready to help us get through it. When the last day finally arrives Jesus will return. He is our loving Saviour. Those whom he loves and those who trust in him have nothing to fear during these last days when everything is in chaos. Not even the idea of the Last Judgement can fill us with fear, because we know that all the sins that could possibly condemn us and send us to everlasting punishment have been washed away with the blood of Jesus.
Yes, everything that we thought would last forever will pass away, but we will be taken up into heaven to a life that will last forever. St Paul puts it like this,
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with God’s trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, 4:17 then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever. 4:18 Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:16-18).
Note those words – “We will be with the Lord forever.”
In spite of catastrophic happenings in the world – earthquakes, wars, and famines;
in spite of persecutions, suffering, and betrayals;
in spite of fire, the earth melting, and heavenly bodies dissolving in a flash of blinding light, and as terrifying as all this can be, “We will be with the Lord forever”, nothing, absolutely nothing will separate us from the protection, the power, and the loveof Jesus.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2006, Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.