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