Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not the Nine O'Clock News

This was the name of a BBC comedy program from 1979 that launched the careers of Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean), Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones and Pamela Stephenson (Mrs Billy Connolly). I use it to set up a study of Mark Ch 13 because the first half of this chapter is very much about 'not the second coming'.

Mark was writing nearer to the event than Matthew, which is probably why he assumes that everyone will see the implicit enquiry in the disciples question. Jesus had just told them that the huge stones (some as big as a railway carriage) of the Jerusalem Temple would be thrown down, "Not one stone will be left upon another."

They asked, "When will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?"

You might wonder about the use of the plural. What things? Jesus had just mentioned the destruction of the Temple. One thing. The answer, of course, as anyone there would have understood, was that the destruction of the Temple would signify the end of the world. Matthew's version of the story spells it out. In Chapter 24 v3 he reports the disciples' question as, "When will this (singular) happen and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

In one sense the disciples are not wrong. The destruction of the Temple does signify the end of the age, though not the end of the world. Note that the question was asked on the Mount of Olives. Jesus had left the Temple for the last time. He had declared Temple worship to be over. The old covenant had passed the new had come. No more would animals be sacrificed as a picture of redemption; the real thing had come. In a matter of days Jesus would be sacrificed on the cross as a once and for all sacrifice for sins past, present and future. But that is all about the first coming, not the second.

The destruction of the Temple would not signify the second coming, nor would wars and rumours of wars, nor earthquakes or famines. Jesus gives a specific warning about the destruction of the Temple, "Flee to the mountains!"

If Jesus had believed that this would mean His second coming, such an instruction would have been redundant. He would have said, "Don't be dismayed when all this happens, you don't need to run away, just gather on the Mount of Olives (or wherever) and watch me return." Clearly he didn't.

It would not be just wars, famine and natural disasters that would happen first; there will also be deception. JWs claim that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914. He didn't. There have been many occasions when certain sects have set a date for his return, It didn't happen. Mr Moon of the Unification Church claimed to be the returning Christ. He wasn't.

Matthew's version expands on this theme. "Many false prophets will appear and deceive many." Muhammad was the first and most impressive of these, but there have been many others including Joseph Smith.

There will also be persecution. "All men will hate you because of me."

Frances Lawrence was on the radio this morning. She is the widow of Phillip Lawrence, the headmaster who was murdered by Learco Chindamo the 15 year old schoolboy 11 years ago. She learned today that a panel of judges have decided that Chindamo (who was born in Italy) cannot be deported when he finishes his 12 year sentence because that would infringe his human rights. Here is the Wikipedia version of the murder:

The Wo-Sing-Wo gang, which was mainly Filipino, aspired to be a junior version of the Triads. Twelve of the gang's members, led by 15-year old Learco Chindamo, a pupil at another school who claimed to be a Triad member, went to St. George's school on 8 December 1995, to "punish" a 13-year old boy named William Njoh, who had quarrelled with a Filipino pupil. Lawrence saw them attack the boy with an iron bar and went outside to remonstrate with the gang. Chindamo punched him and then stabbed him in the chest, and he died in hospital that evening.

The Lawrences were keen Christians. "Should you not forgive this boy?" asked the radio interviewer. "I try," replied Mrs Lawrence, "but I have a visceral sense that it is not fair. Surely, the victim has rights too?"

Indeed it is not fair. In this world we will have tribulation.

A bit of silly doggerel goes:

The Lord makes it to rain on the just
And on the unjust fella
But more upon the just, because
The unjust man usually has the just man's umbrella.

He who stands firm will be saved.

Are you a TULIP person? It all depends what the 'P' stands for. Does it mean the final 'perseverance' of the saints or the final 'preservation' of the saints?

If we believe in human responsibility it is our responsibility to persevere. We have to stand firm. Yet we have also those texts that signify divine responsibility: He who began a good work in you will surely bring it to completion. Is it God's job to preserve you?

I believe in both human responsibility and divine sovereignty. Reconcile them? Why should they need reconciling? They are close friends.

We are called to obey God's commands, but are given the assurance that the Spirit aids us in our weakness. It is not enough once to have made a profession of faith and then hand over the reins to God as if to say, "It's your job, now." So we must persevere, even when the times are tough. And as we persevere, He will preserve us.

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