The Message, November 14, 2021, "Beware!"

The Message, November 14, 2021, "Beware!"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
November 16, 2021


A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Mark 13:1-8

            Two ministers were standing by the side of the road holding signs of warning for the passing motorists. The first minister’s sign read: “The end is near!” And the second minister’s sign read: “Beware! Turn back!”

            The first car of the day approached the two ministers, they waved their warning signs feverishly, but the car sped past. Seconds later they heard tires squealing and a loud crash.

            They turned and looked at each other, and one said to the other: “Perhaps we should change our signs.” And the other replied: “Yes, maybe we should have written, ‘Stop! The bridge is out!’”

            In your travels, you may have encountered ministers holding or wearing signs that read, “The END is near!” You may have had the faithful trying to hand you leaflets proclaiming the same. I have heard street-corner preachers screaming their warnings at the top of their lungs.

            Across the generations, there have been many preachers that have interpreted this passage from Mark as a similar warning. However, that was not what Jesus was saying. It WAS a warning, but it was not a proclamation that the end of the world was near.

            So then, what was he saying?

            He was talking about the end, he was talking about destruction, but his proclamation was directed exclusively at the destruction of the Temple. Consider his audience, Andrew, Peter, James and John. You will recall that James and John, and the rest of the disciples had an argument on the road about greatness. Then James and John continued the argument about their own status and places of honor. It is not surprising that they would marvel at the glorious structure of the Temple.

            And to be fair, it was a glorious structure. Herod’s Temple was still in the process of being constructed but it was known to be the most impressive and beautiful structure in all the land. The stones were massive. The columns were made of pure white marble. The façade was plated in gold. The building would literally glisten in the sun.

            Herod and the Herod family were terrible, abusive and illegitimate kings. They committed atrocities against their own people. But Herod was also a great builder. He built impressive structures … palaces, fortresses, aqueducts … all over the country. Some of those structures still stand two thousand years later.

            No doubt, the Temple was the crowning glory. However, it was not constructed to the glory of God. It was constructed to the glory of Herod! The center of the Jewish life and faith was a monument to human pride and ego.

            And the religious practices surrounding the Temple had become just as corrupted.

            We know that Jesus had been clear in his teaching and preaching about the importance of humility. He had been clear about the importance of service over the desire to be great. And Jesus needed to reinforce that teaching as his time with the disciples was nearing its end. Very soon, they would have to walk without him. Very soon, they would carry the Kingdom mission forward. They needed to be ready.

            That grand and glorious, massive and impressive building would be destroyed. Not a stone would be left standing. And everything that it represents would also be destroyed. The Kingdom of God does not need the Temple to usher it into existence. It needs the faithful followers.

            To be clear, the End was coming. The Day of the Lord is coming. But Jesus was telling them … and telling us … that this is just the beginning of the birth-pangs.

            I have never given birth. However, many of you in this room and watching at home have. You understand the metaphor. You know that when the contractions begin the process has begun, but you do not know how long it will last. It may take hours, it might take days.

            The term ‘birth-pang’ had often been used to describe the process of something coming into existence. In this case, the something is truly, exceptionally wonderful … nothing less than the Kingdom of God! But this is just the beginning, and we know not how long the process will take. And we do not know precisely what the process will look like.

            Some would argue, “Of course we do! Jesus told us.”

            Well … not really. Sadly, this passage has been misinterpreted, misused and abused across the centuries. And interestingly enough, that was part of what Jesus was warning us about.

            There are some very scary events described in this warning from Jesus. “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.” (Mark 13:7-8a)

            Jesus goes on to talk about other cosmic and celestial signs. But he was not giving us a roadmap to the future. Rather, he was framing his teaching in words and images that were familiar. For generations, the Jewish people had heard the warnings from the prophets. They had offered prophecies of the calamities that would befall the people if they did not change their ways. The Children of Israel were well-steeped in the words of Daniel, Isaiah and Baruch, and Jesus used their words and their images to make his point. As he often did, he used words and images that were familiar to their ears.

            Many horrible things will happen in the history of the world. Many horrible things have happened in the history of the world. We have seen ALL of the things that Jesus cited in his warning. But his words of warning were not about those events. Rather, it was not to be mislead by them. Do not get whipped up into a panic or a frenzy by them.

            And beware, because there will be those who will try to take advantage of your anxiety and fear. There will be those who will rise up and use the name of Jesus Christ, there will be those who will use the words of Jesus Christ falsely. Do not be fooled. Do not be led astray. Do not allow your hearts and minds to be twisted and manipulated by the things that they say.

            Be prepared.
            Be patient and be faithful.

            Beware of those who would come in the name of Jesus and lead us astray.

            There are those who simply misunderstand. There is no malice of forethought. Their intentions are pure, but their teaching and preaching may lead the faithful down the wrong path; away from the path of light, and toward a path of fear.

            Of course, there are those whose intent is malicious and evil. They will misuse the name and the Word for their own personal use. They will strike fear in the hearts of those who are struggling. They will take advantage of those who truly long to see the Kingdom of God realized. They will fill their churches and stuff their bank accounts with false promises. Beware.

            Be prepared.

            Not by stockpiling, hoarding or hiding away. Not by fear-mongering. Prepare by following the teaching of Jesus Christ. We prepare by loving and serving our neighbors. The Kingdom ushers in an age of love and justice. Every act of love, every act of service brings the Kingdom closer to realization.

            Be patient and faithful.

            There will be difficult days and there may be terrifying circumstances. Do not be fooled. Do not panic. Be faithful. Love and serve in the face of difficulty and danger. Be steadfast in our knowledge that Christ is with us. He will see us through.

            One day, the Kingdom Glorious will reign over the earth. Until that day, let us beware. Let us prepare. Let us be faithful. Amen.


Congregational Church