I want to begin this morning by assuring you that you are indeed one of the luckiest beings to ever exist. Now, you might be going through an awful lot in your life right now and you may beg to disagree with me, but I would like to lay out a few facts for you this morning to help you see why you are extremely lucky.
First off, do you know that you live in a universe that is perfectly tuned for your existence? What do I mean by that? Let me quote to you what John Lennox wrote in his book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God:
Theoretical physicist Paul Davies tells us that if the ratio of the nuclear strong force to the electromagnetic force had been different by 1 part in 1016, no stars could have formed. Again, the ratio of the electromagnetic force-constant to the gravitational force-constant must be equally delicately balanced. Increase it by only 1 part in 1040 and only small stars can exist; decrease it by the same amount and there will only be large stars. You must have both large and small stars in the universe: the large ones produce elements in their thermonuclear furnaces; and it is only the small ones that burn long enough to sustain a planet with life.
To use Davis’ illustration, that is the kind of accuracy a marksman would need to hit a coin at the far side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away. If we find that difficult to imagine, a further illustration suggested by astrophysicist Hugh Ross may help. Cover America with coins in a column reaching to the moon (380,000 km or 236,000 miles away), then do the same for a billion other continents of the same size. Paint one coin red and put it somewhere in one of the billion piles. Blindfold a friend and ask her to pick it out. The odds are about 1 in 1040 she will.
Those odds are almost incomprehensible, and let me now say that this is just one–yes THIS IS JUST ONE mechanism that requires fine tuning. There are several others which are also inconceivably small. If you struggle with math and the odds, let me be blunt. We should not be here. There is literally a zero chance that all the things that should happen for a universe to sustain life could actually come together and happen–and yet it did. If you believe that this universe is here by chance, then you have more faith than I do because the odds are not in your favor.
But, this is not the end of our luck because we are highly privileged in this universe on this particular planet. You may scoff at such a statement because you might say: with all of the billions of stars and billions of planets in the billions of galaxies, surely there are other planets with life on them. Quoting Eric Metaxis in his opinion piece to the Wall Street Journal: “astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 27 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.”
Well, it just so happens that Carl Sagan was quite wrong. There are not simply two important criteria for a planet to support life. As astronomers and physicists continued to study the conditions that made for life as we know it, more criteria started to come to light. The numbers grew from two to ten; then to twenty; then to fifty; to the present day where we know that there are more than 200 known parameters needed for a planet to sustain carbon based, intelligent life. What does this mean? It means that the SETI project–the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, is a waste of money. The odds are almost nil that there is another planet in the universe that life as we know it exists.
So, to reiterate the point that I began with, do you know how lucky you are? Do you realize how special you are? And, given the non-existent chance that this universe just happened and was a product of chance; and given that this universe very much looks like it was finely tuned for life by some sort of intelligence; and given that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and eats like a duck, then it is a duck, then this universe and this planet were put here by some sort of intelligence. Why is all of this important?
Let’s now turn to our biblical text this morning from the 13th Chapter of the book of Mark. Last week, we saw how Jesus spoke about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and how God had turned His judgement toward that Temple because it was rotten on the inside even though it was a structure of absolute beauty and magnificence on the outside. The disciples asked when these things would occur, and Jesus began to teach them.
First, Jesus said that there would be false Messiahs, then wars and rumors of war; there would be earthquakes and famines. The disciples would be handed over to councils and synagogues and beaten. Families would turn against one another, and these would be the beginnings of the birth pangs.
Some scholars have tried to link these things with the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 A.D., but as I have continued to study this text and read the commentaries, I am not sure that these statements of Jesus and the temple destruction walk hand in hand. Why? First off, we know that there are still stones standing upon stones in Jerusalem. You have heard of the Wailing Wall, no doubt? Secondly, if Mark knew about the destruction of Jerusalem, he probably would have written this section differently because the city was destroyed by a great siege and then with a horrendous fire. There is no mention of this. Thirdly has to do with what Jesus teaches today.
He begins with these words, “‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains...” How to interpret Jesus’ words here depend greatly on what exactly the “desolating sacrilege” is. Walter Liefield in the Expositors Bible Commentary says this: The first word of the phrase, bdelygma (abomination) suggests something repugnant to God, while the second, eremosis (desolation) suggests that because of the abomination the temple is left deserted, desolate. The holy and pious worshipers vacate it.
The question is, has such a “desolating sacrilege” appeared in the Temple? That is a matter of historical debate–if what Jesus is saying here has already come to pass. If it hasn’t yet come to pass, then this is a future event–an event that we must be watchful for because it’s going to be bad. It’s going to be bad, but it is not going to be the end of the days.
Some of you who might have gotten caught up in all the rig-a-ma-roe about the end times might be scratching your head at that comment, but hear me out. Look at what Jesus says and then ask yourself, “If what Jesus is talking about is the very end of the world, then why run?” Why flee to the hills if this is the end of the world? Why come straight down from the house tops and flee without going in to get anything? Why take off straight from the field without going back into the house to get your coat if this is the end of all time? Why try to save yourself–if this is the end of the ages? At the end of the ages, there will be no escape. At the end of the world, it doesn’t matter if you run or if you stand still, you are screwed!!!
But Jesus encourages His followers to run when they see this desolating sacrilege. It is one of those moments when you have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run. This is a moment to run! –Because there will be great suffering; for everyone. There will be such a suffering as has not been seen since the creation of the world. This means, things are going to get really, really bad.
Last week, I talked about those preachers who paint a rosy picture of following Jesus–how He will make your life absolutely perfect; how He will make you healthy, wealthy, wise, and loved. Somehow, I think those preachers missed this part too. There will be suffering, and then I think we get to the crux of the matter. Jesus says, “21And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. 22False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23But be alert; I have already told you everything.”
This is the second time in a few short verses that Jesus warns against false Messiahs and false teachers, and this time He places that warning in conjunction with suffering and the threat of death. I don’t think there is a coincidence in the placement of this teaching.
You see, more than any other time in people’s lives, people question the goodness and graciousness of God in the midst of suffering. More than any time in people’s lives, people question the love and mercy of God when they experience suffering. “Why has God done this to me?” is a pleading question. “Has God abandoned me?” is another gut wrenching plea. As I have talked with people whose bodies are wracked with pain; whose bodies are being devoured by cancer; who are sitting at the bedside of a dying spouse; who are shedding tears next to the casket of a child taken far too early, they want answers. They want understanding. They want to know the meaning and purpose behind all these trials and tribulations. Oftentimes, I don’t know.
And when things are falling apart in society, people want solutions. When terrorism hits close to home; when stock markets crash; when people lose their jobs; when the Supreme Court overturns what many consider common sense values; when churches see more empty pews than full ones; people want answers. People want solutions. People want someone to swoop in and make everything right. When anxiety rises because of suffering and perceived threat; people want a savior, and anyone who comes along with a glib tongue who seems to give them the answers they want can easily lead them astray.
Just believe enough, and your problems will vanish.
Just give enough, and your cancer will cease.
Just change the core of your teaching, and your church pews will be filled.
Just vote for me, and I will make all the problems disappear.
Trust what I tell you and do what I say, and all will be well.
The words are seductive, especially when you feel like you are abandoned; especially when you are hurting; especially when you are in the despair of suffering.
But do you know how special you are? Do you remember how the Creator of this universe has designed this universe for life? Do you remember how the Creator designed this planet for you to live on? Do you remember that given the odds, you shouldn’t even be here? You are a special creation.
And if you have difficulty remembering that, let me tell you how much the Creator cares for you. You see, the Creator knows about your suffering. The creator knows about your pain. The creator knows about your despair, and He is not above it. It pains Him to see what has happened to His creation. It pains Him to see how people are in agony and the trials they face. And He knows the cause. He knows that the creation does not live in accordance with the Creator’s will. He knows that creation has rebelled against Him and lives apart from it.
And so, He enters into creation. He becomes like you and me, clothed with human flesh. He lives the life we should live, and then He faces death. He faces the ultimate in suffering. He faces the brokenness of human relationships as He is betrayed, denied, and abandoned. He faces the injustice of the human “justice” system as He is falsely accused and sentenced to death. He faces the pain of human brutality as He is tortured, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross. He faces abandonment by God and cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” He feels utter darkness; utter punishment; utter abandonment. He dies in such a state and is buried in a tomb. The God who created this universe with you in mind has entered this world and suffered as we suffer; died as we die. He is not above our suffering, and He has taken that suffering upon Himself. And He redeems that suffering. He changes that suffering. He changes that brokenness.
For on the third day, He rose again from the dead to transform all that was evil into good. He rose again from the dead to make darkness into light, despair into hope, evil into good, hate into love. This is the God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.
Anyone else who promises you salvation is a false Messiah. Anyone else who claims to offer you true freedom or redemption is a liar. Anyone who demands something from you without first laying down his or her life for you isn’t worthy of consideration. They want your trust with no cost to them. Jesus wants your trust, and He has already given His life for you. He has told, shown, and done everything for you already. In the midst of your trials and tribulations, never forget this. Never forget the one who has already died for you and has shown you what the end will be. Hold on to Jesus. Amen.