A Sign of Opposition

Biblical Text: Luke 2:22-40

This sermon owes a bunch to Luther’s Postil sermon on this text for this 1st Sunday after Christmas. That published sermon of Luther’s is one of those great overstuffed things. There are about 6 different sermons attempting to break out. In some ways I imagine the great man might have been under some of the similar pressures. He’d probably preached three times in the week already and had a few other things due. And then the next Sunday is there. What do you say? There is always a lot in God’s word, the real work of preaching is picking and expressing one specific thing. But sometimes you just don’t have the bandwidth for that work. So you offer up a smorgasbord.

Solid potato dish – The faith of Simeon & Anna/Joseph & Mary.

Vegetables – The humility of Christ in this group

Fish – Typology, Anna as Old Testament Saints/Temple; Mary as New/Church

Desert (don’t take too much) – Some numbers, 7 & 84

Prime Rib – The sign of opposition

Ham – The Christmas promise against that sign

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Jeremiah 11:1-23 and Matthew 24:1-28

Jeremiah 11:1-23
Matthew 24:1-28
Jeremiah as a Type, AD 70 as a Type and fulfillment

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Judges 16:4-30 and Gal 4:12-31

Judges 16:4-30
Galatians 4:12-31
Typology, Samson’s typology of death, Hagar’s typology of Israel, the typology of life

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Exodus 13:17-14:9 and Hebrews 7:1-22

Exodus 13:17-14:9
Hebrews 7:1-22
A thought about Hermenuetics or proper interpretation, typology,the purpose of trial
Program note: These texts are tough because they are not really about direct proclamation or the main story line. These texts, especially Hebrews, are given as examples of proper reading and interpretation. That might be something that the church at large needs to hear, but it doesn’t really fit in a devotional 9 minute frame.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Genesis 42:1-38 and Mark 12:1-12

Genesis 42:1-38
Mark 12:1-12
Type of Christ: not in grace but in his placement, Grace vs. Revenge, Stealing the Vineyard?

Mark 13 – a deeper look – part 2

So, in part 1 we made two conclusions about Mark 13. First Mark 13:1-31 is talking about AD70 while Mark 13:32-37 is talking about the Last Day. Second, based on Mark 13:14 and specifically the authorial comment, we readers must be meant to get something out of Mark 13:1-31. Even though it is about AD70, it is not a dead letter. The way it is not a dead letter is to read it typologically.

First a note about typology, this is how the apostles thought. You can see Paul using it in Rom 5:12-21, Peter in 1 Peter 2:1-10, John in 1 John 3:11-24, and even the unknown author of Hebrews in Heb 3:1-6. There are a bunch of other examples. What I would assert is that this is exactly what Jesus taught them in Luke 24:44. All of scripture talks about Jesus. It is interpreted Christocentrically. At a more basic level what I mean by typology is that a person or event in the past has continuing relevance for the present and future by means of being fulfilled. A typology that Jesus refers to is the sign of Jonah. Jonah is a type of Christ in that his three days in the belly of the whale are fulfilled by Christ’s three days in the tomb. (Luke 11:29-30) If you want to read more about typology the Wikipedia entry isn’t bad.

So, the typology that I want to look at specifically is found in Mark 13:14, the verse that the author says “let the reader understand”. The phrase I want to look at is “The abomination of desolation”. This phrase has a well-defined OT history and a well-defined history in AD70. Because of that I think we can make safe typological statements. Not statements that I would bring into the pulpit simply because the background and depth necessary are just too much, but solid defend-able interpretation. For the OT background please read Daniel 11:31, Daniel 12:11, Daniel 9:27 and Mal 2:11. To be solidly grounded in that OT usage, which the original AD70 hearers would have understood, is necessary. That OT end of the type narrows and limits our usage for the fulfillment. I am going to paraphrase Dr. Robert Stein from his commentary on Mark. (The full citation would be: Stein, Robert H. “Mark.” In The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, edited by Yarbrough and Stein, 601-605. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.)

Paraphrasing, the 4 “rules” of the abomination of desolation would be:
1) It deals with the Altar and Rituals of the Temple
2) It is recognizable to serious adherent
3) Early enough that “fleeing” is meaningful
4) A person instead of a thing (reflecting the grammar of the phrase and Dan 9:27)
Dr. Stein puts forward Phanni, a high priest appointed by Zealots, as the fulfillment in AD70. The recognizable abomination was that Phanni: a) wasn’t qualified according to the law, b) allowed murder and division in the temple and c) profaned the Holy of Holies. All of that would have been easily recognizable by the common Judean Jew. He was appointed sometime in 67-68, so well before Rome encircled the city. And he is a person and not a thing.

I want to pause for a second to reflect on what this excludes. The abomination of desolation is not something in the political realm. Based on the original types we would not look for this in politics. What it really leads to is the end of a religious institution. The temple came down. It is the sign of impending judgment on a religious establishment. AD70 was a sign of the Lordship of Jesus. A religious establishment that has gone off the rails can be called to repentance, but if you see the abomination of desolation, it is too late, flee. We know from Acts and the letters that the Apostles continued to meet in the temple (Acts 3:1). They called for its repentance (Acts 3:17-19). They knew it would come down because Jesus predicted it, but it was still the center of religious life, and who knows maybe God would be merciful, until the abomination. When you see that, flee.

So, here is what I would say is the payoff. Looking at AD70 as a type, we might see its fulfillment among ourselves in divine judgment upon church bodies that are irredeemable. If you see a church body that has profaned the sacraments and altars what you are seeing is an abomination of desolation. If you see such a thing, that is the time to flee. The time for calls to repentance are over. The faithful can see that fall as proof of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church and he will not be mocked. None of this calls for or expects a perfect church. There is a lot of ruin in a church before you get to abomination.

The final jump is yours, let the reader understand. Do you see an abomination? If there is one, this generation will not pass away before the fall happens. I would be pretty sure that something like this might qualify. Altar and Ritual, check. Recognizable, should be. Early enough, yep. People instead of things, yep. Please note that I’m talking about the church here. I have made no comment about the political or even the social realm. The abomination of desolation and any judgment is reserved for religious institutions. I also want to re-iterate again that this is something extreme. I don’t think this happens “all the time”. Really what this amounts to is a final warning to any believers remaining in these church bodies. If all the calls to repent have been rebuffed and the institution is “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” into flagrant heresy then you might see this as the final sign, flee.

Mark 13 – a Deeper Look – Part 1

The last two weeks of the church year are traditionally given to the apocalyptic. This year it was Mark 13:1-37. There is no part of the scriptures that might be more given to extremes of interpretation. Flights of fancy about the end times, which for some reason are always about our time, are built on the smallest of connections. At the other extreme are folks wishing to avoid that ditch by just saying that these parts of the scripture are a dead letter to us. What I want to do here is outline what I think is the road between those two ditches. I didn’t, and wouldn’t, take this into the pulpit because bluntly that time is too precious for what is in the end speculation however well grounded. But this is prime stuff for bible study. And that is where this comes from. In prepping two sermons a whole bunch of reflections were churned up. We spent a couple of Sunday morning bible studies laying groundwork and attempting to look a little deeper. How is Mark 13 not just a dead letter, but also well grounded?

The first thing I would recommend any time you are reading “end times” scripture is getting your toughest and most literal translation. Why? It will slow you down and make you look at each word and phrase, and the more readable translations often have an interpretation embedded already. What that means practically is getting out the old family King James or the ESV. I’m going to give you an example here comparing Mark 13:32 in the ESV and the NLT.

ESV: But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows (Mar 13:32 ESV)
NLT: However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen (Mar 13:32 NLT)

The NLT just reads along easily. Both translations give you the central idea that “no one knows”. But what the NLT steamrolls over is what “these thing” are. It elides the transition that is present in the original language. In Mark 13 Jesus is talking about two things:1) the fall of the temple in AD70 and 2) the end of the world. The NLT’s these things keeps the distinction squishy. The literal ESV, reflecting the clumsy Greek, reflects the positional emphasis of the words. “Concerning that day or that hour”, the verse signals a transition of subject. Jesus has been speaking about AD70 up until this time. But now, concerning that day or that hour, the Last Day, the End of the World, no one knows. The tougher translation slows you down to get that temporal transition.

So, that is the first big interpretation decision. Mark 13:1-31 talks about AD70 and Mark 13:32-37 talks about the Last Day. The main thing you can take away from the Last Day answer is no one knows so be prepared. Repeat that like a mantra anytime you are tempted by the “Left Behind” ditch. There are no signs. There is no way to figure out a timeline and where we are on it. No one knows.

But what about Mark 13:1-31? If it is all talking about AD70, is it a dead letter to us? If it is a dead letter why does Mark write verse 14? “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (Mark 13:14 ESV).” Let the reader understand? Who is the reader? Even if you answer something like – “Mark wrote in the 50’s and the reader was Jewish Christians living in Judea”, you still need to deal with the idea of the Holy Spirit as the author. This is my second big interpretation decision. While Mark 13:1-31 in its full context is talking about AD70, the parenthetical remark “let the reader understand”, says that this is not a dead letter. We must avoid the Last Day ditch. We can learn nothing about that day from here, but it does mean something to us. What does AD70 mean to a Christian living today or at any time post AD70?

It is here that I like to introduce a distinction. There is the capital letter Day of The Lord, and then there are days of the Lord. We all have a personal day of the Lord at the time of our death. And a fair history admits of times that seem unthinkable, times when we say surely the Lord was at work either in judgment or in deliverance. (We don’t know that and can’t say for sure, but we don’t have to be idiots. These are the times when you fall into the divine passive – “we were delivered on that day”. The passive hides the true subject with a sense of mystery, but only one without ears wouldn’t get the point.) What I am going to suggest is that AD70 becomes for us a type of those small letter days of the Lord. And I am going to flesh out how that typology works in this case. Given the scriptural context of Mark 13:14, it is a well-grounded and narrow typology, but one that I think has amazing resonance. I’ll continue this tomorrow.