3And when he sat down on the mount of Olives across from the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him, 4“Tell us when these things will happen, and what the sign will be that all these things are about to be accomplished.” 5But Jesus began to tell them, “Be sure that nobody deceives you.â€ — Mark 13:3-5
In the 13th chapter of Mark we see Jesus talking to troubled people about trouble. The disciples have just commented on the beautiful buildings of the temple complex in Jerusalem, and Jesus has told them that all of it would be destroyed. To understand how that would feel to a Jew of the 1st century, multiply the impact of the twin towers many times over. The temple wasn’t just symbolic. It was the heart of the Jewish people.
So naturally, the disciples did precisely what you and I would do. Once they knew trouble was coming, they wanted to know what, when, and how to know. Isn’t that what you would have wanted to know? I know I would want to know that! Isn’t it precisely what we pray for over and over in our lives now? What’s going to happen Lord? How can I know what to do? Lead me! Guide me!
And those aren’t bad prayers at all. Jesus doesn’t rebuke his disciples for their question. But he starts his answer with â€œBe sure that nobody deceives you.â€ He knows that people seeking for guidance are open to deception.
When I was a teenager, I lived with my missionary parents in Georgetown, Guyana. At the time very few people knew where Guyana was. They couldn’t find it on the map. They couldn’t spell it. Our mail would get sent to Ghana, Africa. But then something happened.
A preacher by the name of Jim Jones brought a few hundred people with him from the United States and founded a community (using the term loosely). People who were not sure what to do flocked to Jim Jones, because Jim Jones knew precisely what to do. There was that certainty about him that attracted people in doubt. Most of us don’t like doubt and uncertainty.
One day Jim Jones became certain that the best thing for all of his followers to do was to drink poison. Most of them went along with him. A number more were forced. Very, very few escaped. Now Jonestown wasn’t all that near Georgetown where my parents lived. (By this time I was in college here in the States.)
Jesus knew precisely the right thing to say first when people are looking for certainty and direction. Do not be deceived! Because you’re uncertain, you are vulnerable to people who are certain.
I’m sure you’ve all met the sort of person who always speaks with absolute authority. Sometimes that is justified. They may be a person with knowledge or authority. Every so often, you encounter someone who is very certain, but almost always wrong. When I first moved to Pensacola, I signed up for the local Ham Radio emergency network. I’m a Ham Radio operator (inactive these days), but I had the necessary equipment. My task was to take my radios and stand by at a shelter to provide communications support.
Now I really knew very little about hurricanes, but the first tropical storm to come along, off I went to Washington High School where I was assigned. I sat there through the night and was never needed, but so it goes. There was a young Red Cross volunteer there who was probably in his 20s. He was an expert on hurricanes. He spent the whole night telling us about what was happening and how everything was working. I didn’t know whether he was right or wrong, but the other workers did, and they spent the night correcting what he was saying. They were right, and he was wrong. I checked when I got home.
And that leads me to the starting point on avoiding deception. Get grounded in what is right from a solid source. For the disciples, and for you and me, that solid source is Jesus. I mean that above and beyond even the rest of the Bible. (I don’t mean the rest of the Bible is less true, but that’s another topic.) Get grounded in who Jesus is and what he taught, and filter all your questions through him, no matter what those questions are.
What is our best sign? Jesus is! Keep him before you throughout the week!