Tony's Reflection 95 

Anyone who watched TV in the 1970s will remember Dad’s Army. It was broadcast from 1968 to 1977, over nine series and 80 episodes and came fourth in a BBC poll in 2004, to find Britain’s best sitcom. The stories of the bumbling Home Guard unit in World War II Walmington-on-Sea featured a host of memorable characters, such as Capt Mannering (Arthur Lowe), Sgt Wilson (John LeMesurier) and Cpl Jones (Clive Dunn).

Cpl Jones was well into his 70s; a veteran of the Great War and colonial campaigns stretching back to 1870. He wasn’t quite “all their upstairs”. Whenever something scary happened, it would set him off, running around the platoon in circles, shouting hysterically, "Don't panic, don't panic!”

What Jesus has to say in today’s episode from
Mark (13:5-13) would have set off Cpl Jones, for sure. It was enough to make anyone want to panic…

Jesus had just foretold the destruction of the temple. Inquisitive, the disciples had wanted to know when this would be. As Jesus sat under the olive tree looking back towards the temple, on the opposite side of the valley, the late afternoon sun was still warm. His reply, though, would send a cold chill through to the very bones of those listening. They had expected him to unfold a timetable to satisfy their curiosity. Instead they get dire warnings of horror, beyond imagining.

“Watch out…” begins Jesus. He is deeply disturbed in his spirit. They can see it and feel it. It is the distress of someone with painful news, who would rather not have to tell it, but has no alternative.

“There will be wars, famines, earthquakes, rumours of disaster everywhere, but that isn’t it. This is just the start. In fact, it is the beginning of the start, just like the contractions coming at the start of birth pains…”

Those listening who have seen their wives in labour start to squirm. Those were the days when the only painkiller was a cup of wine.

“Watch out that no one deceives you. False messiahs will come, leaders pretending to be me, come back again. They will be flashy, fast talkers, fast movers and they’ll get many followers. You, though, don’t be taken in…”

As they look at their master they love, that balmy afternoon, it seems impossible to think anyone could pull off pretending to be him. He’s one of a kind. The sheer urgency in Jesus’ voice though, is utterly sobering. He’s clearly taking the threat of these deceivers seriously and so should they.

“You be on your guard…” the warnings are cascading out, thick and fast. Jesus becomes increasingly impassioned, desperate for the disciples to take this on board. Sometimes it felt like his teaching went in one ear and out the other without registering. The days to come would be desperate - this time his teaching just has to take root.

They have to understand…

Grievous times are coming their way. Soon Jesus will face plotting priests, a bloodthirsty mob, a mock trial and a gruesome death. They would follow their master on the same path of suffering. According to early records, at least 10 of the 12 were cruelly martyred, through stabbing, burning, clubbing to death, crucifixion, one even skinned alive, then beheaded. Jesus knows full well what lies ahead and he must warn them.

As they go out bearing witness to Jesus, they can’t not expect a universal welcome. No…

Synagogues were meant to be peaceful places, for pursuit of faith, but they would become places of persecution. Followers of Jesus, men and women alike would be flogged in them, 26 savage lashes on the back, followed by 13 on the front.

They would be summonsed to appear before kings and governors. This wasn’t a warm audience with a kind, matriarchal monarch. They shivered in apprehension as they remembered how John the Baptist had been brought before the king. That had not gone well.  They would be put on trial for their faith. They are uneducated men, happy to pass on to others what they had heard and seen of Jesus – but making a legal argument, in the highest courts and knowing their lives were at stake? That’s a different matter, entirely.

Jesus senses their apprehension. How can he ease the dread?

“You won’t have to worry what to say,” he reassures them, “the Holy Spirit will be standing there with you in those courts and he’ll speak through you. Your words will be him speaking.”

Their minds went back in a flash to the temple. How Jesus had met all the devious hostility that the very highest authorities there could muster, answered every trick question and come through it all. They had wondered at the time how he did it, where his responses came from. Now they know, for sure. They will be given the same unanswerable wisdom.

Will this Spirit-given power guarantee success? After a fashion, yes. They will acquit themselves faithfully, but that won’t mean acquittal. Jesus had told them repeatedly how he would be tried and executed… if speaking God’s truth clearly and faithfully won’t save him from death, what hope is there for them?

Will there be any place of safety for followers of Jesus? The home is usually a place of refuge, strength and security – but not for the Twelve or many who would come after.

“Even your nearest and dearest will betray you,” says Jesus, “handing you over to the authorities to face death.”

What can they do? Jesus never promised an easy life to those who followed him, but now the shocking cost of faith is clear. Jesus offers no sugar coated pill, to make these woes go away. All they can do is stand firm until the end - even if that end means a martyr’s death. They remember Jesus’ promise, that when he does come back he will be proud to reward all who remain faithful. There is a flicker of courage in their hearts.

 signed Tony