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Mark 13_1-8

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TITLE:  A "Deceiver" Warning                 SCRIPTURE:  Mark 13:1-8

How would you feel if you were visiting Washington, D.C. and overheard some know-it-all say, "This is a wicked city!  It will be utterly destroyed –– leveled to the ground!"

It might depend on whether you are a Republican or a Democrat –– or whether you regard government as helpful or hurtful –– or whether you have just read about another member of Congress stealing money or flirting with teenage congressional pages.  But most of us, regardless of political leanings, would hate to think of the citizens of that city or any city dying –– and the foundations of our government undermined –– and the collapse that would follow the destruction of our capitol city. 

Or how would you feel if someone made the same kind of prediction about your own town? 

Or how would you feel if someone made the same kind of prediction about your church? –– if they were to say, "This is a wicked church?  God is going to burn it to the ground!"  I would find that kind of comment disturbing.  Who knows whether a person who talks like that might commit arson!  If I heard someone talk like that, I would probably alert the police.  I would want to know whether that person might be a threat.

Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem.  One of his disciples, looking at the temple, said, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!"  They were large, too!  Made of white marble and adorned inside and out with gold, the temple was as tall as a fifteen story building.  It stood high on Mount Zion where people could see it for miles.  On a clear day, you could see it forever. 

"Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!"  Indeed!  But Jesus responded,

"Do you see these great buildings? 

Not one stone will be left here upon another;

all will be thrown down."

Maybe that was why Jesus wasn't all that popular in some circles.

Later, when they put Jesus on trial –– his enemies accused him of threatening to destroy the temple.  In Mark's Gospel, that is the only accusation that they made against Jesus ­­–– that he threatened to destroy the temple.  He didn't do that, of course.  He just said that it would happen. 

It did happen, too, about thirty years later.  The Romans finally got tired of dealing with Jewish zealots, so they destroyed Jerusalem and killed most of the people.  When I say that they destroyed Jerusalem, I mean that they leveled it.  The emperor wanted to create a place so desolate that no one could ever tell that anyone had ever lived there, so that's what his soldiers did.  They set fire to the temple.  Then they pulled down the stones so that no stone sat on another stone.  They leveled Jerusalem.  It was terrible.

It had happened before –– six centuries earlier.  Jeremiah the prophet had said that it would happen –– that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed because of the sins of the people.  They didn't want to hear it, so they imprisoned Jeremiah in a big cistern. 

We don't use cisterns anymore, so you might not be familiar with them.  A cistern is an underground cavern used to store water.  In the days before mechanical pumps, people dug cisterns near their homes and filled them with rainwater during the rainy season so they would have water during the dry season.

The people of Jerusalem threw Jeremiah into a cistern to shut him up when he said things that they didn't want to hear –– namely, that God was going to destroy them and their city because of their sins.  The cistern didn't have any water in it, but the bottom was muddy and Jeremiah sank into the mud.  He would probably have died there, but someone said, "Micah, the prophet, gave us the same warning.  Maybe Jeremiah is a prophet, too."  So they rescued Jeremiah from the cistern, but failed to heed his warning–– failed to change their ways –– so God allowed the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and its people.  That happened in 587 B.C.

Now Jesus was warning that it would happen again.  He was saying that Jerusalem would once again be destroyed because of the people's sins.  They didn't want to listen to him either, so they crucified him.

But what Jesus predicted came true.  In the year 67 A.D., the Romans destroyed Jerusalem –– leveled it –– killed most of the people.  It was terrible.

So what does that have to do with us?  Is there any word from God for us in this scripture today?  I believe there is.

I would like to draw your attention to what Jesus told his disciples after he predicted the destruction of the temple.  He and his closest disciples were sitting on the Mount of Olives, across from the temple, and he said this.  He said:

"Beware that no one leads you astray.

Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!'

and they will lead many astray."

Let me ask you a question.  Is it still possible to be led astray?  Do we face as many temptations in the twenty-first century as those disciples did in the first century?  Of course we do!  There are so many deceivers out there today that I scarcely know where to start.  They range from minor deceivers to major deceivers –– from people trying to sell us toothpaste to people who are undermining corporations and even nations by their greed and lust for power.

We parents need to hear this, because the deceivers are working on our children.  The job of parenting has never been more important, because the lives of our kids have become so complicated.  The deceptive messages come at them from every direction –– from television, from advertising, from their friends, from the Internet, and even from their cell phones and their iPods.  Our kids are bombarded with messages about drugs and sex and other self-destructive behaviors.  It takes great strength for a child or a teenager to resist the temptations.

A recent article on prisons ("RX for Recidivism," Christianity Today, Nov. 2006, pages 70ff) noted that our prison population has increased tenfold in thirty years.  There are ten times as many people in prison today as there were thirty years ago.  You might think that has nothing to do with you –– and hopefully it won't –– but don't discount the possibility.  The article mentioned that there has been an especially dramatic increase in the number of female prisoners, much of it because of drug abuse –– meth abuse in particular.  Our kids are at risk.

How can we help our kids find the way?  How can we strengthen them for the journey?  How can we help them during the many hours of each day that we cannot be physically present with them?

One key is to start early.  I remember reading about an child-rearing expert who was responding to questions by parents.  One woman asked how early she should start instilling values in her child.  The expert asked, "When is your child due to be born?"  The mother answered, "My child is three years old."  The expert said, "Then I suggest that you go home immediately!  You have missed the most important three years!"  Start early.  Teach your children faith and teach them values from the very beginning.

Another key is to keep it up.  Persevere!  Form close bonds with your kids when they are young and maintain those bonds as they grow.  Moms and Dads never go out of style.

Another key is to set a high spiritual tone in your home –– and to expect kids to adhere to standards of decency and civility at home.  Our homes need to be places where our kids can find refuge from the spiritual squalor that they find outside the home. 

When I was a child, my mother taught me to wash dishes.  If we had lots of dishes, she taught me not to wash all them with the same batch of dishwater.  Once the water became dirty, I was to drain it and start a fresh batch.  She said, "You can't get dishes clean by washing them in dirty water."  In like manner, we can't expect to raise good kids in bad homes.  If your home isn't what it ought to be, go home and drain the dirty water and make a fresh batch.  Make a new start.  Provide the most decent home you can for your kids.

Another key is to spend time with kids –– to listen to them –– to know their concerns –– to know where they are –– and what they're doing –– and who they're doing it with.  That isn't meddling.  It's parenting –– and it's important!

One thing that we can do along those lines is to bring our kids to Sunday school and church –– to encourage them to participate in the youth groups.  Having Christian friends doesn't guarantee success, but it will help our kids when the temptations get tough.

And we can pray for them.  Each one of us in this congregation, whether we have kids at home now or not, should get to know some of the kids in the congregation. We should care about them, and we should pray for them.

Jesus said:

"Beware that no one leads you astray.

Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!'

and they will lead many astray."

That is happening today.  It is happening in our community.  It is happening in our schools.  It is probably happening in the homes of some of our church members. 

We need to make our church a fortification of faith and decency to hold back the tide. 

We need to make our homes a fortification of faith and decency. 

We need to make our lives a fortification of faith and decency. 

We need to do that to keep ourselves safe from the deceivers –– and so our kids will have a chance to grow up strong in body, mind, and spirit.

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