Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” Mark 13:5-6
Mark 13 is sometimes called the “little apocalypse”; it contains in one chapter much of what is considered to be Jesus’ final teaching on the end of the age. Without going into too much commentary, much of it is pointing to the Jewish war and final destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, 36 years or so after Jesus spoke these words. There are, contained therein, also statements shrouded in the 1st century imagery that Jesus and His disciples would have known. But if we are looking at this enigmatic chapter in the hope of finding clues about the end of history, we are going to be disappointed and will miss the essential point.
Four times Jesus says “watch out” meaning to be on your guard, and twice He commands listeners “to stay awake.” Why? Because He knew what they were facing (what we are facing). Jesus gives very clear instructions as to how to remain faithful followers whilst the world around was falling apart and challenging their faith. This teaching remains dynamically relevant to us in our century, as the world, in even greater complexity, continues to fall apart and undermine our faith:
Often, we are victims of deception and are bombarded with information, making it hard to discern the truth. News disturbs us: we are constantly aware of events that impact us, mostly indirectly, but about which we suffer an undercurrent of anxiety. We are so easily distracted by the urgent, the immediate, the demanding and, dare I say it, the unnecessary.
So how do we “watch out”? Prayer – constant conversation with and paying attention to the Father; absorbing His words through Scripture: simply paying attention every day would create in us the sort of discipleship that Jesus is demanding of us in Chapter 13: staying focused on Jesus and, through the Holy Spirit, upon the heart of the Father. This would help us rise above deception, anxiety and distraction to live in the present of the Kingdom.
“Seek first the Kingdom of God” – dear Father may this be my theme tune today and for every day of my life – in the power of Your Spirit and the beautiful name of Jesus.
Let us watch out by:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:20
Eyes are watching. Ears are listening. You take a deep breath. Your very next action, be it word or movement, could bring about peace or war for the nation you represent. The difference between life and death is in your hands. So you sharpen your thoughts, hold your tongue, take captive every word said and think before acting or reacting. Your behaviour is on full display.
The definition of an ambassador is given as “an important official who works in a foreign country representing his or her own country there, and who is officially accepted in this position by that country.” Using this definition for the quoted verse, we can extrapolate some points between ambassadors and Christians:
The last point is especially important. The moment we declare Jesus as our Saviour, we become citizens of heaven and are entrusted to be representatives on God’s behalf.
Though you reside on earth (a foreign country), you protect the interests of God (your home country). This means, as an ambassador, you are not only a representative in a passive way (i.e. the way you behave, what others see in you), you must also actively protect and uphold God’s best interests.
Not surprisingly, both the passive and active parts of being an ambassador go hand in hand. By being a good representative of God and living out His word, you bring others to believe in, know and love Him. The country you represent seeks to bring those into its citizenship, not push them away! And there is no long list of requirements for immigration, obtaining a visa, or having to reside there for seven years.
So remember: you do not act on your own behalf but on the behalf of your country, on behalf of God. Ever aware of this, you make your next decision. You could be the sole difference between life and death for the next person you meet.
Let us be ambassadors by:
This is my beloved Son; listen to Him. Mark 9:7
One small word made a particular impression on me among the bigger and weightier words in the sermon last week: “listen!” This was probably because at the end of the previous week’s Island ECC Walking with God course, the group resolved to spend at least one minute daily for the following week listening to God. Just listening.
During the week I was reminded that listening doesn’t come naturally. As a parent, I want my children to listen to my pearls of wisdom, of course; but as a child of God, I want to do most of the talking rather than listening out for His wisdom. We even congratulate ourselves on spending “quiet time” with Him, though it is usually not so quiet on our side as we use our one mouth more than our two ears.
Of course, God does love to hear us express our issues and we grow spiritually as we talk to Him. But those words “listen to Him” were surely not just for the three disciples present but also for us. He did not tell us to follow, obey or imitate Jesus, which would have been all about our actions. Instead, He called on us to listen, which is all about our attention, heart and relationship. If these are cued by Christ, we will grow and be transformed, and the right actions will flow from that.
The trouble is, we and our attention tend to wander off, relegating Jesus to routines and compartments in our calendar. This must leave Him feeling saddened, like a parent who’s trying to connect with a beloved teenager through a seal of headphones and wall of social media activity. It’s ironic that this can be so, even though the other things jostling in our calendar can be “good” activities that we think will make Him happy.
So we need frequent reminders to listen up, and reach beyond routines to relationship. Let us:
Tiffany did not grow up in a Christian family, but one day her friend invited her to church. Tiffany believed she would stick out from the crowd; instead, she found a friendly place of worship that provided a community to walk with her through difficult times. As she kept going to church with an open heart, something began to click. Her faith materialised when she went through Alpha and GROW courses, which eventually led to this public profession of faith today.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned. Romans 5:12 (NIV)
I recently had the privilege of sharing on the topic of sin at an event for teen mothers. I chose that topic because the journey the Lord has brought me on is a journey of confronting my sins, in particular with my anger issues. The birth of my son almost three years ago and the responsibility of motherhood convicted me to face these sins and seek the Lord in earnest about transforming my unhealthy, destructive patterns.
As I prepared to share with the teen mothers and reflected on my journey, I defined sin as “choosing to be our own god and trusting in ourselves rather than in God.” It was Adam’s action that caused sin to enter into the world for all mankind. Instead of trusting in God, Adam trusted in himself and was misled by the evil one to believe eating the fruit would make him be like God.
Through the help of professional counsellors, loving support from my spouse, family members and friends, and most important, from the Lord, I learned that my anger and rage comes from many deep layers of pain and hurt. I have learned that my destructive ways of dealing with anger were passed down from generations before me. While those have been somewhat external factors out of my control, God has also gradually allowed me to see and accept that my sin, much like Adam’s, is rooted in my desire to handle situations in my own way and in my own self-sufficiency rather than turning to Him.
Romans 5 continues, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous.” Jesus is the answer to confronting our sins. Only He can take on all of our sins – all of the pain and hurt, all that has come before us and even after us. It is only when we step down and let Jesus take the reins of our lives that we can experience the cleansing of our sins in which we are made righteous and can live a transformed life.
So, would you join me on our knees to: