Monday, October 20, 2008

Preaching difficult passages

In preaching through Mark's gospel, on Sunday I arrived at Mark 13. This is certainly the hardest chapter to understand in Mark's gospel. After my study on the text there were certainly various questions that for me remained unresolved.
What, for example, was the abomination of desolation? there are several well known candidates (the entry of Titus into the temple, the imperial standard, roman coinage etc, an unqualified high priest)

Then there is the question as to whether the son of Man's "coming in the clouds" is coming back to earth, or coming to the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7). I was 80% convinced that it was coming to the Ancient of Days, (i.e. the destruction of the temple was to signify that Jesus had entered the heavenly temple.)

What do you do when there are some things about which you are totally unsure, and some things about which you are not entirely sure.

The first thing is to see if it actually makes any difference at all to what the passage means.

In this case the identification of the abomination makes not a squat of difference. I am entirely convinced that it came as a sign of the approaching destruction of the Temple (answering the disciple's question in verse 4
"Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?"

Thus, it wasn't a sign for US, but for THEM, to ensure that there would not be Christians in Jerusalem at its destruction. There were none. So the reader obviously understood. They got the message and fled before it was too late.

The other issue made some difference to the meaning of that section, but not really to the thrust of the whole chapter. It is clear that there are three focuses in the chapter. 1) the time leading up to the destruction of the temple. 2) the destruction of the temple itself and its significance. 3) the last day and the final return of Christ.

All this is to say that it is OK to be honest when you are not sure about something you are preaching. It can help people to see that in order to get the main points of a passage of scripture, they don't have to fully understand every detail.

the audio of the sermon can be found here.

1 comment:

Coyle said...

Hey Mike,

You're right, it an insanely tough passage! In Bible study, we cheated and talked about why the temple mattered so much and how this was different from OT passages concerning the future of the temple, but I think your way is more honest and useful :)