Sunday

'This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.' (v. 8)

Mark 13:1-8 Sunday 14 November 2021

Psalm 16

Background

This week’s theme is 'Signs of the Kingdom'. There are a number of different definitions of the kingdom of God, not least because Jesus teaches in actions and words that give pointers, but does not directly say what 'the kingdom' is. So perhaps the best way of looking at it is that Jesus through his ministry, reveals the kingdom breaking through into history as we know it. In doing so, he encourages us to view the world through a faith lens.

So what does today’s reading reveal about the kingdom of God? What does Jesus reveal or signpost about the kingdom? It is clearly a passage that shocks us; it is also a series of thoughts that would have resonated with Jewish thinking about the end times. The Jews believed themselves to be the chosen people; there was also a widespread belief that God would intervene at some point in history and that there would be pain and trouble; all of which would be followed by a more glorious age. In Mark 13, one of the most difficult chapters to read in the New Testament, Jesus reveals what will surely happen. It is often referred to as 'apocalyptic', meaning unveiled or revealed.

Jesus tells his disciples there will be terrible events preceding the 'end of the age'. His prediction of the destruction of the Temple, the most important building for a Jew, would have been deeply shocking. Precise dates are not mentioned, but events such as wars, earthquakes and famines are highlighted. Jesus says: “This must take place, but the end is still to come.”(v. 7) Yet even through this catalogue of calamity, he also tells his followers, “Do not be alarmed".

 So, in this one passage, there is both despair that iconic buildings will crumble and natural disasters will place, but also  optimism that all will be well – ultimately – “This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.” (v. 8)

Jesus offers us a future, an eternal future. The problems of this world are many, not least caused by climate change. As we all know, there are examples of pain and suffering all around us. Later verses in Mark 13 encourage us to stand firm, proclaim the good news and Jesus will gather the faithful “from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”(v. 27)

Jesus’ death and resurrection reveal such suffering and glory. For people who see the world through a Christian lens, it is a sign of the kingdom both present and eternal..

 

To Ponder:

  • The world is still in the grip of a pandemic, there is human-initiated strife and war on most continents, and climate changes are a reality. What helps you to hope beyond present suffering and to believe in an eternal future?

 Prayer

We pray today for those whose intense pain and problems do not enable them to see an alternative, either in this life or beyond. As in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5, may they know the reality of God’s blessing.

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