As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
“Do not be alarmed.” It was (comparatively) easy enough for Jesus to say that, sitting under the (relatively) safe umbrella of the Roman Empire – a world power if ever there was one. It might have had its bad moments; the Romans weren’t softies and the taxes were high, but at least they weren’t in a war zone, and the Pax Romana was a kind of peaceful existence. Wars and rumours of wars were a long way off. But in another 30 years it would be a different story, and not one stone of the temple would be left standing. The end was nigh and it seemed that only Jesus knew it.
We are not short of wars and rumours of wars, and some of them come from the very stones on which Jesus and his friends were sitting, and the noise of war and chaos gets louder with each passing day. Are these just birth pangs of a new creation, or the end of the world as we know it? God knows – so do not be alarmed?
Perhaps for too long we have assumed that peace, comfort, stability and changelessness are the marks of true religion. That’s not what Jesus says; those were not the marks of his life. He lived without a regular home, no steady income, no family circle. In the end he had no friend to defend him against the falsehoods of his accusers: ”Throw down the Temple indeed. What rubbish!” And rubbish indeed was what was left, with only a cross on a hill to mark the spot where the Son of Man’s glory was revealed. Our faith may bring comfort to the lost, food to the hungry, healing to the afflicted, but it comes at the cost of a world and its values turned upside down in the birth pangs of our new creation. `”Do not be alarmed” – perhaps Jesus was joking?
O Lord support us by your grace through all the hours of life’s day: Until the shadows lengthen, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and the evening comes. Then Lord, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last: through Christ our Lord. Amen
(John, Cardinal Newman)
The Rev’d Peter Moth is a retired minister and member of St Andrew’s URC in Kenton, Newcastle upon Tyne.