Wednesday Morning Devotion (Reading Signs)

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. 6Many will go out in my name saying, “I am he!” and they will deceive many. 7But whenever you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be disturbed. It has to be this way, but it is not yet the end.” — Mark 13:3-7

In the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, there is a very interesting scene right near the start. Shift, the ape is trying to persuade Puzzle the donkey that he should wear a lion skin they had found. The problem with that is that, of course, Aslan is a lion, and it seems a sacrilege to the donkey. He doesn’t know just what the ape has planned for him! Just as Shift has gotten Puzzle to put on the lion skin there is a “great thunderclap right overhead” and the ground trembles.

“There!” gasped Puzzle, as soon as he had breath to speak. “It’s a sign, a warning. I knew we were doing something dreadfully wicked. Take this wretched skin off me at once.”

“No, no,” said the Ape (whose mind worked very quickly). “It’s a sign the other way. I was just going to say that if the real Aslan, as you call him, meant us to go on with this, he would send us a thunderclap and an earth-tremor. . . . What would a donkey know about signs?”

It’s very important, I think, that Jesus started his talk about what was about to happen, and his disciples’ request that he identify a sign with the warning: “Be sure that nobody deceives you.” The reason is that signs are pretty easy to misread. In fact, Jesus mentions one right away that gets misread all the time. “Wars and rumors of wars.” How many times have I heard that line. Then someone will solemnly announce that Jesus must be coming very soon because there are so many wars.

But Jesus explicitly says otherwise. The wars and rumors of wars are not the sign of the end. They are something that happens all the time. Jesus is, in fact, saying that those are not signs. It’s interesting how we read the Bible. Here we are in a chapter in which Jesus speaks of coming events, and to some extent about his second coming, and Jesus explicitly says, “That is not your sign!” Yet because it’s in the chapter, we have come to associate the phrase with the end.

I don’t even remember when someone pointed out this problem with the text to me. But the idea that wars are a sign of the end times is so ingrained that people just can’t seem to get away from it. Many of us are much like Puzzle, and when Shift the Ape comes along and asks us just what donkeys like us would know about signs, we don’t have an answer.

So what is the starting point for solving that problem. How about we start where Jesus did? Let’s get a look at what things are like in the world in general. Then let’s take a look at how God generally works in the world. When we know that we can look around for the signs of God at work. The disciples were doing just the right thing in our passage for today. They went and asked Jesus.

How do we do it? We can spend time studying the Bible for ourselves on a daily basis. We can expand that by reading sometimes about the history of the church. But at the same time we need to be aware of what’s going on in the world. You can make anything look shocking by taking it out of context. “There were more people being killed in wars each day in the 20th century than at any other time in world history.” Now I’m not certain that line is true. I don’t think we can be absolutely certain about it. But suppose it is? There were also substantially more people in the world during that time frame.

Wars and rumors of wars is the way things work in this world under occupation by the forces of evil. You are one sign that God is doing something about it!

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