The Lesson (Mark 13:24-31)
Rev. David French
Did you see it? The sign from God; did you see it? Maybe I should ask, “Did you notice it?” because I’m sure you saw it. It was as plain as day. It was all around you. So, as you were I guess, just taking it all in, did you take some time to reflect on the lesson of this sign from God?
In last week’s reading Jesus had spoken of the destruction of the temple, how not one stone would be left standing on another, and Pastor pointed out how the Romans had burned it some seventy years later. Did you also know that it has also been recorded that men and their insatiable greed took the temple apart stone by stone as they searched for the droplets of gold that had melted and fallen down from the ceiling and ran in between the stones? And so, the words of Jesus were fulfilled, not by the power of God, but by the hate and greed of man.
With the opening words of our lesson for today, “But in those days, following that distress,” Jesus begins to teach how that destruction was but a sign of a far greater destruction that was and is yet to come. He tells them, and us, in those days “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
One commentator I read understands those words in this way: The entire universe will go out of joint. The hand of God’s providence and governance will be withdrawn, and all will be dissolved into its elemental parts. And then, even as the world is falling apart and the heavens are being rolled up like a curtain, the people who have suddenly been hurled into a completely cold and darkened world will see the glory of the Son of Man.
The Christ, the One who had come into the world to pay for the sin of all but was rejected by many, will be seen in all His heavenly glory and power coming in the clouds. Like a mighty conqueror the One who was despised and rejected will appear and in the fullness of His divine majesty, and He will judge the living and the dead. Clearly, Jesus is pointing to the end of the world. But fear not little flock, for even as the world is crumbling around you, Christ will send His angels to gather His elect. And who are His elect? They are you and all who believe in Him for the forgiveness of their sins.
For while Jesus surely died for all, the blessings of His death are only received by those who believe. And that belief, or faith, was and is God’s gift to you, the result of His Holy Spirit working through the Word connected to the waters of your baptism. The Word connected to the bread and wine of His Supper. The Word proclaimed to you in song and sermon. The Word that Christ promises will never pass away. The Word you live every day.
And Jesus, understanding the fear within us, continues, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree.” I don’t know about you, but perhaps because I’ve been listening to Mark lately, the first thought that came into my mind was the fig tree in Mark 11. In verse 13 and 14 we read, “Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, Jesus went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.” At verse 20 we hear these words, “In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.”
Remember, our lesson takes place on the Tuesday of Holy Week, and Mark 11 is the story leading up to Palm Sunday that is just three days before. That withered tree had to have come to their minds, and the words learn the lesson of the fig tree must have sent chills up and down their spines as they remembered the lesson of that tree, that is, that the fruitless will be destroyed.
The disciples were probably expecting another lesson on judgment, maybe something like: When you see the leaves whither, you know the cold harsh winter of eternal death is near. That is, after all, a lesson we see and feel, especially at this time of year. As the darkness closes in on us, temperatures drop, and the leaves wither and die, we are being reminded of the consequences of our sin. We are reminded that the cold darkness of death awaits us all.
You see, as you watched the leaves fall, you were seeing a sign from God. Like me, you probably have raked them and maybe even played in them, but in the end they were put into a pile to be burned or taken away and destroyed. But that’s not the lesson for today. The question for you is, “Seeing this sign, did you take time to reflect on the lesson God is teaching through His creation?” Because today is an important one for us as we are forced to face endings that we don’t want to face.
But it is in that light that we are offered hope, as on this day, Jesus uses the fig tree to teach a lesson of blessed assurance. Today’s fig tree is a lesson teaching us that the end is also a new beginning. Jesus says, “As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.” Far from the teaching about the harshness of judgment, Christ teaches that the end of the world is but the messenger, a sign of far greater things that are to come; things so close, so very close, or as Christ puts things right at the door.
My friends, the beginning of the end of the world is not often looked at, even by Christians, as something to look forward to. We understand in our heads that it’s a good thing, but still, most of us, I would guess, are not hoping to be alive when it happens. After all, we also know the words just four verses before our lesson, “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.”
Will it be scary at that time? Let’s be honest. I mean, it’s unsettling to see how the world seems to be coming apart now. How much more so will it be when we actually see the sun and moon go dark and the stars begin to fall from the sky? That is, as we see the very undoing of the laws of nature?
But even so, the truth is, whether it’s your world or the world that’s falling apart, the lesson of the fig is meant for you and me and for all who call on Christ, a great source of comfort. Remember, those days are like a tender branch about to put forth its leaves. True, it’s just a twig that we see every spring, year after year, but when we see it, we know what’s coming. You see, those twigs carry with them God’s promise of eternal life.
And so it is, whether in the midst of those final dark days or your own personal dark days, God’s solution for our fears is the same. Remember the fig tree, that is, remember God’s promise. Remember that like summer, He is coming, He’s right at the door, not to punish, but to comfort and assure you that by grace through faith you also will be with Him forever..
In Jesus’s name, Amen.