Saturday, November 27, 2021

Sunday 5 December 2021 - Advent 2

Theme(s): John the Baptist / Purification / Completion of God's Work in Us

Sentence: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Isaiah 40:3)


Praise and honour to you living God for John the Baptist,
and for all those voices crying in the wilderness
who prepare your way.
May we listen when a prophet speaks your word,
and obey with the strength of Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm = Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6


The focus on "coming" this Sunday in Advent is on John the Baptist, the one who prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ to minister in Israel and to the world.

We have to be chronologically imaginative through these weeks. Last Sunday we focused on Christ's Second Coming (still in our future). This Sunday (Luke 3:1-6) and next (Luke 3:7-18) we are not so much preparing for the coming of Christ at his birth but for his coming (into adult ministry and mission) at his baptism (Luke 3:21).

Malachi 3:1-4

Malachi (which, incidentally, means "my messenger") foresees the Lord sending his messenger "to prepare the way before me [i.e. the Lord]" (1).

In the Gospel of Mark (noted below) this messenger is identified as John the Baptist. Later in Malachi, 4:5-6 this messenger is identified as Elijah, an identification unsurprisingly made also in the gospels (Matthew 11:10; Luke 1:17; 7:27). A little confusingly some also think that Jesus is Elijah come again (e.g. Matthew 16:14). But that sense of multiple identification is a tribute to both Elijah as a "refining" prophet par excellence and to the "refining" work of both John and Jesus.

Malachi sees the one who prepares the way of the Lord as "like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; ... and purifier of silver" (2b-3). John's message (as we will see next Sunday) was a no holds barred, get your life sorted out message. Jesus was no less compromising when he preached. "Fullers' soap" refers to an agent used in the making of cloth which cleansed and whitening the material.

For Malachi this purification of Israel ("the descendants of Levi", 3; "Judah and Jerusalem", 4) will enable righteous offerings which are (finally) pleasing to the Lord (3-4). Later, Christians will understand that the (so to speak) combined efforts of John the Baptist and of Jesus result in the one pure and final offering, made by Jesus when crucified at the hands of the kingdoms his kingdom came to supplant.

Psalm = Luke 1:68-79

Zechariah bursts into song after a period of muteness (1:20-22; 64). He blesses God (68) for raising up his child as a special prophet (76). A great theme of this song is mercy: God looks "favourably" on his people (68), by raising up a mighty saviour (69) he has "shown the mercy promised to our ancestors (72), thus sins will be forgiven (77) and "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us" (78).

Philippians 1:3-11

I am going to focus on just one element in this reading and relate that element to our other readings.
In those other readings there is a very strong sense of God working out a "plan of salvation." Through Isaiah and Malachi a future day of preparation for a saviour is seen as well as the future salvation through that saviour. Zechariah foresees the impact and outcome of his new son's future prophetic ministry. Across centuries God's plan is being worked out, towards an outcome in which light supplants darkness, justice reverses injustice, impurity is purified and sins are forgiven (i.e. restoration of the sinner takes place).

In this reading, Paul, rejoicing constantly because of the progress of the Philippian Christians, offers them an encouragement, flowing from his own convictions, and it's an encouragement which will also inspire and motivate his continuing prayers for them (1:3-4, 9-11):

"I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ" (6).

For Paul, the God who has worked a good work of saving the world, through centuries of human history, is the same God at work in each Philippian Christian (and, by extension, in you and me). Just as God is bringing that "global" work to completion, so (Paul is utterly confident) God will bring that "individual" work to completion.

In other words, the gospel is both universal and local (or, perhaps, better, personal), it is about what God is doing in and for the whole world (see, e.g. Ephesians 1:9-10) and what God is doing in you and me. And what God is doing, we may be, we should be confident is a sure and certain work which will be completed. God is not finished with any of us and we should not be discouraged if we feel incomplete.

In the season of Advent we notice the twice mentioned "day of (Jesus) Christ" (6, 10). The Second Coming of Christ will result in a definitive moment in time when the world as we experience it will be brought to an end and the work of God in the world will be seen. For each Christian our hope is that on that day God's work within each of us will be complete and we will be found "pure and blameless" (10).

Luke 3:1-6

In his first two chapters, Luke tells us in his gospel about both the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist (not even Matthew's Gospel tells us the latter). So when "John son of Zechariah" is mentioned in 3:2 we feel that we know all about John, and Zechariah already.

In verses 1 and 2 Luke is consciously historical. When the events in Jesus' life took place, they could be cross-matched to other events and to other 'lords'. Interestingly, Luke is fairly general about dates prior to these verses. Zechariah and Elizabeth conceive John "In the days of King Herod of Judea" (1:5) and Jesus is born during a time of "registration" which was "taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria" (2:2). But here in our passage there is great precision about the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry: "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, etc" (3:1). 

[Note: However, from our calendrical point of view, there are different ways of reckoning what this "fifteenth year" indicated, so we are talking about a year between 26 AD and 29 AD]. 

We also see Luke being historical about geography and rulership: "Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of ..." (1) as well as about Jewish religious leadership, "during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas" (2a). The ministry of Jesus inaugurating the kingdom of God occurs within history, marked by reference to rival "kingdoms", political and religious.

But God intervenes in this historical account: "the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness" (2b). This is in keeping with prophets of former days in Israel when the prophet's call and/or initiation of ministry was referenced to rulers of their day (e.g. Isaiah 6:1-8).

We are not told but presumably a word from God has already sent him into the "wilderness" where Luke placed him at the end of his growing years (1:80). This word of God sets John on the move, "into all the region around the Jordan", and gives him a message to preach, "proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (3).

Noting (above) a possible intended parallel between John the Baptist's initial ministry and Isaiah's initial ministry as a prophet, we also note that Luke sees John the Baptist fulfilling words in the Book of Isaiah, 4-6 = Isaiah 40:3-5 (see also Matthew 3:3= Luke 3:4 thus Luke extends his citation from Isaiah; also Mark 1:2 who combines Malachi 3:1 with Isaiah 40:3). On multiple occasions New Testament scriptures witness to a very strong interest in the Book of Isaiah as forecasting key moments in the coming of Christ and concerning his ministry and final events of his life.

So, John is the "preparer" for the coming of Christ as "the salvation of God" (3:6).

But talk of salvation presupposes a problem from which people need saving. There have been hints of this already in Luke's history of Jesus and the kingdom (e.g. in both the Song of Mary (Magnificat), 1:46-55; in the Song of Zechariah, 1:68-79; and in the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis), 2:30, 32): a dark world will be enlightened (1:79; 2:32) and an unequal world will be made just (1:51-53).

In other words, the kingdoms of this world, whether the Roman empire (see mention of Tiberias and his governor Pontius Pilate), or the local kingdoms with delegated authority (see mention of Herod, Philip, etc), or the religio-political-cultural authority vested in Annas and Caiaphas, are not capable of saving the world. Indeed as the gospel story proceeds and we see the forces which oppose and eventually kill Jesus, these kingdoms are part of the problem.

Finally, note that John's preparational work, according to Isaiah is to enable "all flesh [to] see the salvation of God" (3:6).

Luke's Gospel and its sequel in Acts is always telling us that the kingdom of Jesus is a kingdom for all, for Jews and Gentiles. A continuing challenge for God's church - in the sense of the people who belong to God and who hold the gospel message through time - is to keep facing outwards, to continue to live for the sake of the world which is not yet in the kingdom of God.

This Advent that challenge is as sharp as ever, as violent persecution against Christians in some places and general cultural sidelining of Christians in other places (such as NZ) could nudge us to turn inwards and look only on ourselves. Can we look outside of ourselves? 

An outstanding blogpost in the Luke passage is at Psephizo.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Sunday 28 November 2021 - Advent 1

 Happy New Church Year!

Theme(s): Advent - Coming of Christ / Alert and Ready / Now and Not Yet

Sentence: To you Lord I lift up my soul; my God I have put my trust in you;
you are God my Saviour; for you have I waited all the day long. (Psalm 25:1,4)


Come, O come Emmanuel,
You are the way, the truth and the life;
you are the true vine and the bread of life.
Come, living Saviour,
come to your world which waits for you. Amen.


Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36


Jeremiah 33:14-16

Jeremiah prophesies a "righteous Branch to spring up for David" (15) and we reading backwards from the New Testament, readily understand this Branch to be Jesus Christ. Thus the Lord's promise has been fulfilled (14).

Yet an honest reading of the passage must allow that not all Jeremiah's prophecy has come to pass: "justice and righteousness in the land" have not yet been fully "executed" and the days of "Judah and Jerusalem [living] in safety" have not yet come to pass. See further, below, re the Now and Not Yet of the kingdom of God.

Psalm 25:1-10

This is a prayer of waiting (3) in which the psalmist prays on behalf of all those who earnestly seek the ways of the Lord in order to follow in them (4), with a prayer that sins not be remembered (7) in order that one day fulfilment in the Lord may be reached. In short, an Advent prayer!

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

We need to read this whole passage through to the last half of the last sentence to realise why it is set down for Advent!

Paul prays for his Thessalonian congregational readers/listeners, both thankfully and hopefully.

(Do we pray like this for our fellow Christians: thankful for the joy their progress in the Lord gives us (9) and hopeful for the Lord to work in their hearts (and ours) in order that we may "increase and abound in love" (12), with hearts "strengthened ... in holiness" (13)?) He has a target in mind for his prayers that they might be found "blameless before our God and Father" (13): there is a day coming when the Lord Jesus will appear "with all his saints" and by that day all Christians will wish, with Paul, to be ready to meet Jesus in his full presence (13).

On that coming day, in respect of the Thessalonian correspondence, we might usefully read the following passages as background to today's passage: 1 Thess 1:10; 4:13-18; 5:1-10; 2 Thess 1:7-12; 2:1-12.

Luke 21:25-36

We are into a new Church Year, a new year in the Revised Common Lectionary Cycle, Year C, so we have a new gospel to proclaim: Luke. (On the Gospel of Luke, incidentally, I commend this post by Richard Bauckham, which gives a wonderful overview of the gospel. Required reading for Year C.)

But it is Advent so we begin in an odd place, not with chapter 1 (we'll be there on 20 December, and we could be there next week if we choose Luke 1:68-79 as an alternate to the psalm).

Before we get to Luke 21:25-26 let's remember four things about Luke's Gospel:
- It sets out to be a faithful witness to the stories and sayings of Jesus, even improving earlier versions (most likely Mark, possibly Matthew also): Luke 1:1-4.
- It has special interests compared to the other gospels: women, the poor, the Holy Spirit.
- It has treasured material not found in the other gospels (e.g. the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son - stories which have shaped the language and cultures of Christian nations and peoples).
- It has a sequel, the Book of Acts which means the story it tells of Jesus is matched by another story it tells of the advance of the kingdom Jesus established.

So, to Luke 21:25-36 on this Advent or "Coming" Sunday 1:

In Luke 21 (as also in Mark 13 and Matthew 24), Jesus is responding  to the question "When" in verse 7, asked by the disciples in response to Jesus saying that the temple would be destroyed (6). 

Verses 20-24 envisage what actually happened in AD 70 ("... Jerusalem surrounded by armies ... Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles ..."). 

Verse 24 ends with "until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." Such description could refer to the time of Roman domination ending (but, if so, then we have not seen the temple restored in Jerusalem, though we have seen the reestablishment of a Jewish state with Jerusalem as capital). It might be better to think of Jesus prophesying that Jerusalem's temple would remain a desolate site without a temple until a much later period, for instance, until the time of the gospel spreading throughout the Gentile world comes to an end.

Verses 25 - 36, our passage, could then be understood as referring mostly to the end of the "times of the Gentiles".* This end, according to this passage, will be a time of world shaking events, both natural, supernatural and geopolitical. 

But the precise understanding of what will take place is difficult to pin down. The language running through verses 25-27 is drawn from Joel 3:3-4; Isaiah 24:19 (according to the Greek form of the Old Testament); Isaiah 34:7; Daniel 7:13-14; Psalms 65:8; 46:4 89:10; Wisdom 5:22; Jonah 1:15; Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:10 and Zephaniah 1:15. 

In other words Jesus is invoking the grand prophetic theme of the coming great day of judgement rather than scattering cryptic clues about a timetable for history. (*But, as we will see below, things are a bit more complicated than that).

Verse 28 makes the simple point that when such events come to pass we who love the Lord Jesus should not be scared but confident, holding our heads up high "because the day of your redemption is drawing near."

Verses 29-31 reinforce the point being advanced about knowing when these things are taking place that the kingdom is near. But verse 32 is a problem (as with its parallels in Matthew and Mark). What does "this generation" mean and what is its significance at this point in the passage?

We should not beat about the bush. "This generation", interpreted in the light of Luke 9:27, is the generation of people listening to Jesus speak. So, some aspects (at least) of what Jesus expected to happen as "shaking" events were expected to happen within a reasonable span of years. That, in fact, is what happened, since Jesus spoke around 30 AD and Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in 70 AD - 40 years, which was one measure of a generation.

Yet just as clearly we can say that the following has not yet happened: 
(1) we have not seen the visible return of Jesus Christ (e.g. as 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud', 27); 

(2) we have not experienced the fullness of the kingdom of God; (3) the Last Judgement has not taken place.

That we need to explain this situation of 'something happened' and 'some things have not yet happened' is heightened by the fact that verse 33 offers a form of "lifetime" guarantee that what Jesus is saying is true, "... my words will not pass away."

The simplest, most repeated explanation offered by biblical scholars is that whenever Jesus speaks about the 'coming' of himself/kingdom/judgment there is a "both-and" set of aspects to consider and hold in mind.

First, the "Now" aspect: through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ has already 'come' again into the world, following his death, resurrection and ascension; the kingdom came with Jesus of Nazareth, it is growing in the world (according to Jesus' own teaching through kingdom parables); God is always judging the world: the consequences of sin have their own effects on sinners in this life.

Secondly, the "Not Yet" aspect: the day is coming and is not yet here when Jesus Christ will return to earth in full visible glory and power, judgement of the living and the dead will occur and the kingdom in all its fullness, completion and perfection will be experienced.

So, what then? Verses 34-36 offer a stirring warning and challenge: "Be on guard ... Be alert at all times ..." Whether we are wondering (say, in 65 AD) when Rome will sack Jerusalem or (say, today as we read this) when Jesus Christ will require us in judgement to "stand before the Son of Man", we are warned by Jesus to be ready for calamity and judgment. We do that best by avoiding evil living (dissipation, drunkenness), praying for strength re calamity and generally living faithfully as Jesus' disciples.

Advent is the season when we especially invite each other to both remember and celebrate Christ's first coming and to remember and carefully note Christ's teaching about his second coming.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Sunday 21 November 2021 - Sunday before Advent

 [Note: this Sunday, the last before Advent and the beginning of a new church year, could also be Aotearoa Sunday]

Theme: Christ the King / Christ Reigns Over the World / Christ Reigns in Me / Stir Up Sunday [i.e. preparation for Advent]

Sentence: But as for me, I keep watch for the Lord; I wait in hope for God my Saviour; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7 adapted)

Collects: (The collect for Stir Up Sunday is so lovely it is a pity not to cite it here].

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people
that, richly bearing the fruit of good works,
they may by you be richly rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Christ our Redeemer King,
you have crushed the serpent's head;
you have freed us from our sin;
rescue all your suffering world from the evil that attracts us still. Amen.

Readings: (related)

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Rev 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37


Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Daniel is an extraordinary book on any reckoning, combining as it does court tales from Persia, miraculous deeds of rescue and protection, extraordinary stories of discernment and interpretation of dreams and visions, as well as descriptions in the second half of the book of Daniel's own visions of impending events. In these visions the common thread (itself coherent with great themes in the first half of the book) is the question of rulership. Who rules over Israel? Is it one of the invading, oppressing empires, symbolised by the wild beasts of Daniel 7:1-8? Is it the Lord God of Israel?

The answer is not surprising: God rules! But the form it is given in is surprising for readers unused to the colourful, if not bizarre language and imagery of apocalyptic literature. In our first two verses we see God as 'the Ancient of Days', ('Ancient One' in NRSV) described in human, earthly terms familiar to us: clothing, hair, throne, wheels, white, snow, wool, flames, fire. We do not for a moment think that God looks like this, or indeed, is merely an 'ancient' being rather than a timeless being (i.e. a being unshackled by time). So we ask, what does this vision of God convey to us? It conveys (at least) unshakeable power and lots of it. The Ancient of Days has a throne, takes his place on it (9) and exudes power as fire issues and flows from it and as a vast multitude serves him and stands on attendance to him. Moreover, this retinue constitutes a court of judgement (10). In the context of the "wannabe" kingdoms envisaged in the first eight verses of the chapter, verses 9-10 should give all readers (who are on God's side) confidence and hope. Indeed, in verses 11-12 we see judgement leted out to the beasts.

But there is a twist to the vision of divine power in verses 9-10. In verses 13-14 we are introduced to another impressive, powerful figure, 'one like a human being.' This figure is clearly powerful ('coming with the clouds of heaven,' 'To him was given dominion and glory and kingship ... his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed'). This figure is also clearly subordinate to the Ancient of Days: 'he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him.' Who is this kingly figure? Scholarly debate ranges over three identifications.

Briefly, this human like figure has been identified as:
(1) the archangel Michael, that is, as the principal angel whose focus of guardianship is Israel (see Daniel 10:13, also Revelation 12:7); 
(2) the (forthcoming) Messiah, that is a new Davidic rule, reminiscent of the power and might of the great King David; 
(3) a representation of Israel, that is, this single figure in some way sums up the whole corporation of Israel - see verse 18 where 'the holy ones of the Most High' receive a kingdom similarly to what the human like figure receives in verses 13 and 14. 

But there is a further identification, which Christian readers are open to reading back into the text, prompted by Jesus self-identification as 'The Son of Man:' 

(4) this vision is a prophetic view of one who comes in the future (i.e. the future relative to the present day of Daniel), one with Davidic Messianic character (as Jesus had), who in some sense represents Israel (as Jesus did) and who has heavenly characteristics, reminiscent of great angels such as Michael (as Jesus had - in the first Christian centuries there was quite a bit of discussion about whether Jesus was an angel or not)!

Psalm 93

In this psalm we sing the praises of the Lord who is king (1). 

The character of the Lord's kingship is worth noting, especially in these days when the world is terrorised by bombs and indiscriminate shootings. 'He has established the world; it shall never be moved;' (1b). 

Challenging times ask of us what faith we have and what we have faith in. The psalmist invites us to have faith in the Lord girded with such strength (1a) that the world - notwithstanding any appearances to the contrary - is established, it shall not be moved.

Rev 1:4b-8

The Book of Revelation is mostly understood as an example par excellence of 'apocalyptic literature', full as it is of visions (revelations). Since these visions have a prophetic character in the sense that they convey the judgement of God against injustice, Revelation is also an example of prophetic literature (see 1:3). Less noticed and discussed is that Revelation also has the form of a letter. But this observation begins with this passage. In verse 4 John writes like Paul, Peter and James: "John to the seven churches that are in Asia." The greeting in verse 4b is particularly reminiscent of Paul writing to the churches: "Grace to and and peace from him ..."

But the description of the God in whose name this greeting comes is quite a bit different from anything Paul writes at comparable points in his letters. Where we might meet 'God the Father' we are greeted by 'who is and who was and who is to come' and where we might have invocation of the Spirit or Holy Spirit we hear 'from the seven spirits who are before his throne'. What is being communicated here has occasioned quite a bit of debate. Are there seven spirits, really? Surely John means the 'sevenfold' Spirit? Are the 'spirits' effectively the 'angels', groups of seven of which reappear in Revelation? We will pass by such discussions since today's reading has been chosen for 'Christ the King Sunday.'

The greeting from Jesus Christ is a bit closer to what we find in Paul's writings, who speaks of Christ's faithfulness, of his being the first born from the dead and one who has dominion over all things (noting especially Colossians 1 and Ephesians 1). But the specific phrase, "the ruler of the kings of the earth" is unique to John's language about Christ. Why this phrase in this book? As the visions unfold it becomes clear that God is communicating through John to the churches that when they are pressed and pressured by 'kings of the earth', principally the great king or caesar of Rome, their trial is temporary not permanent, for these kings are subject to another king, to Jesus Christ who is ruler of the kings of the earth.

John 18:33-37

Is Jesus a king? Yes and no, as we read this passage. When asked the question, "Are you the king of the Jews?" (33), Jesus does not give a straight answer (34-35). The nearest he gets is to talk about "My kingdom" (36) and to acknowledge that Pilate has made a statement which he does not deny, "You say that I am a king" (37). But since Jesus says, "My kingdom is not of this world" (36) we readily understand why he does not give a simple answer to the initial question about being 'the king of the Jews'.

In everyday terms, referring to a human ruler of human citizens, Jesus is not king of the Jews or any other sort of earthly king, 

"If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews" (36). 

Yet Jesus has a kingdom, even if it 'is not of this world,' so he is a king of a kind we do not ordinarily experience on earth. What kind is that? That is, what does Jesus mean when he says he has a kingdom but the kingdom is not from this world?

Sticking to the passage, we are given a clue in verse 37: 

"For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Working backwards the logic seems to be this: a king has loyal followers, that is, people who "listen" to the king's voice; such people "belong to the truth"; in order to be such a king "I came into the world, [not to conquer it, nor to inherit some pre-existing kingdom, but] to testify to the truth." Jesus is not "king of the Jews"as such but "king of the belongers to the truth, of the listeners to his voice (including those Jews who so belong)."

But that begs the question, which Pilate helpfully asks on our behalf, 

"What is truth?" (38) 

No answer is given in the succeeding passage, but the answer, in one important sense, is given by the Gospel of John understood as a whole: the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Saviour of the world. Jesus is the king of those who believe in him, who assent to this truth and who abide in the One of whom this is the truth.

In our world today we see the clash of kingdoms of the kind whose followers are willing to fight (see 36). But the willingness to fight for a kingdom presupposes a belief in the ultimate importance of that kingdom. Jesus' kingdom may not be 'from this world' but it is connected to the kingdoms of this world because the kingdom of Jesus is a kingdom which embodies ultimate truth, truth at variance with the beliefs on which other kingdoms are founded.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Sunday 14 November 2021 - Ordinary 33

Theme(s): You have been warned! / Be faithful, whatever happens / Christ's amazing achievement on our behalf / Joy in the presence of the Lord

Sentence: 'In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore' (Psalm 16:11)


God our creator,
you entrust each of us with great treasure.
Help us to be responsible stewards of the gifts and skills you have given us.
May we honour the trust you have in us
and use our talents as generously as you have given them.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God now and for ever. Amen

Readings (related):

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
Mark 13:1-8


Daniel 12:1-3

As we move through Mark chapter 13 (sometimes described as 'the Little Apocalypse') we tune into Jesus' teaching about the future, coming tribulation, vulnerability of God's people and are repeatedly reminded of the importance of being faithful through all such trials.

Such a message, delivered with such strong picture language is a familiar aspect of apocalyptic literature, such as Daniel, Revelation and Mark 13.

In this reading, we have Daniel, a century or two before Jesus, in the context of the "God trashing" empire of Greece, sharing his vision of what is going to happen. He sees Michael, the archangel of Israel, being the protector of Israel. (We might now substitute Jesus for Michael). There will be a time of anguish (as Jesus also sees) but all will end well for 'those who are wise' (3), that is, for those who wisely live righteously and so side with God and not with the God-trashers.

Psalm 16

I love this psalm. Perhaps you do too. What makes it special? I suggest it is because it is intensely personal as it conveys the devotion of the psalmist to God (likely David, and it is not hard to imagine David composing these words). Yet that intensity of devotion has a light, joyful tone to it. David is secure and confident in his relationship with God.

The devotion, for example, comes through in 5a,

'The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup'

and the security and confidence are expressed in 6,

'The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.'

My favourite verse in this favourite psalm is the last verse, within which is this poignant line,

'In your presence there is fullness of joy.'

Is that our daily experience of the Lord?

Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25

This is one of the greatest passages in the Bible! It sets down, repeats and underlines the basis of assurance that our sins are forgiven and forgotten, that we are perfectly sanctified (made holy).

What is that basis? Christ's 'single sacrifice for sins' (12). His 'single offering ... by (which) he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified' (14). Since this single offering has accomplished the forgiveness of sins, 'there is no longer any offering for sin' (18).

Now there are things to debate here: what does it mean that we are perfectly sanctified (surely none of us are experiencing this here and now in this life)? 

Does God truly forget our sins and lawless deeds (for, we might think, does he not recall them on the day of judgment)? 

But I suggest that we might set those debates aside for another day. Today let's bask in the wonder of what Christ has accomplished for us and let's praise him for his finished, complete, never-needs-to-be-repeated single offering for the forgiveness of our sins.

Mark 13:1-8

Having excoriated the scribes in chapter 12, and compared them to a poor widow putting all she had into the temple treasury (41-44), Jesus now pronounces the end of the temple (2).

Despite its magnificence (1), the temple is doomed. We now know that this pronunciation became truthful when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and razed the temple in 70 A.D. But when Jesus said these words the disciples had no idea 'when this will be' (4) and so they ask him (4).

The reply Jesus gives is found in verses 5-8 but these verses turn out to also be an introduction to a much larger teaching by Jesus on the future for his followers (persecution, 9-13; tribulation, 14-23; coming of the Son of Man, 24-37; with a resounding concluding instruction, 'Keep awake', 37).

When we finish today's passage we may wake up to a kind of trick Jesus played on the disciples. They asked him a question. He gave a reply which was interesting and stirring. But he did not answer their question. They want to know when  the event of the destruction of the temple will happen. He wants them to remain faithful to him and his gospel message. A date in the diary is not vital to Christian engagement with the future. What is vital is not being led astray in the run through the future. So, for instance, we read at the end of the next section,

'But the one who endures to the end will be saved.' (13)

Our trick in understanding the passage is not to take the events Jesus speaks of and compose a timeline from them but to note inwardly the variety and intensity of the challenges we may face as Christians. It would be good to pray today for Christian brothers and sisters who are facing war and rumours of war, stricken by earthquakes and suffering famine.