Flashback Episode — Refocusing Our Priorities: Mark 13:1-13

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During the week Jesus was crucified, Jesus traveled into Jerusalem during the day and every evening, He would leave the city and spend the night outside of Jerusalem. On one afternoon, as they were leaving the temple, we are told about a remark one of the disciples makes, and how Jesus refocuses the conversation onto something much more significant.

Let’s look a little closer at what was said from the gospel of Mark, chapter 13, and let’s use the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 1, Mark tells us:

1 As He [Jesus] was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

While I had planned on reading more for this episode, let’s stop reading here and focus on what was just said, because it is incredibly relevant for us living today – maybe even more relevant than to the disciples looking at the magnificent temple. It would be very easy to keep reading and completely miss the relevance of these first two verses. While I don’t know the back-story for why this disciple made this comment, or really what the intent of his thought was, on the surface, this remark speaks to the remarkable achievements of the human race.

While the temple in Jerusalem was one of the most spectacular buildings to see in the ancient world, in today’s culture, we could substitute virtually any of the hundreds or even thousands of distinctive man-made structures that have begun to identify the location where they were constructed. In many ways, just seeing a specific building or specific skyline can immediately identify what city is being displayed.

In this short statement about buildings, the unnamed disciple unintentionally tries to draw the focus onto what we as humankind can build and accomplish. Now 2000 years later, we are able to build buildings bigger, taller, and more magnificent than anything constructed during the first century or at any point during ancient times. This is in part because we have better materials and bigger tools at our disposal.

But regardless of whether Jesus was talking about God’s house on earth, also known as the temple, or if we were to substitute the focus from the temple and onto some of the most spectacular towers and buildings in the 21st century world, I believe Jesus’ response would remain the same.

Jesus responded with the sobering reality in verse 2 that begins with a question: “Do you see these great buildings?” Jesus asks this disciple. “Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.

The response Jesus gives is fascinating in my mind because it appears as though Jesus leads the disciples into thinking that He is agreeing with him. It is like Jesus says, “Yep, these are pretty amazing buildings. Too bad they will soon be completely destroyed.”

If I was tempted to put words into Jesus’ mouth, I likely would have responded with the statement, “Do you see these great buildings? They are nothing compared to what God has in store for all His followers in heaven.” I may also have framed it along the lines of feeling in awe of God because when we are in a large building of that sort, such as a cathedral, we are reminded of how small we are in comparison to how big God is. Sure, God is much bigger than any and every cathedral ever constructed, but it’s good to be reminded visually of our “smallness” when pride likes to trick us into thinking we are bigger than we really are.

But Jesus doesn’t make a comparison with the best humanity can do placed next to what God can do, and He doesn’t even frame the magnificent buildings as structures that can help us draw near to God.

Instead, Jesus focuses our attention on the temporary nature of anything humanity can build or achieve, and this is incredibly relevant for us.

First, every achievement we accomplish will fade in significance with the more time that passes. Our minds minimize our past successes in light of our current challenges and our future fears. This is just a part of human nature. The best we can hope to do is slow this fading in our minds by structuring time into our lives to focus on what we have achieved in the past, and this is best done when framing our accomplishments in the context of what God was able to do through us.

Next, every achievement we accomplish will be out-done by someone else at some point in the future. While we might die on top of the hill of a certain accomplishment, eventually, someone somewhere will beat the record we set, or build something bigger, better, or more efficient than we did. Records and achievements are fluid and as more time passes, we as a species get better and better, faster and faster, and more efficient with what we do.

The best we can hope for with achievements like this is to be happy for those who out do us. There is a good chance the person who out did us looks up to us in some way, and rarely are they the bad guy in a competition. While we shouldn’t ever stop pushing forward and trying to do better following a big achievement, we shouldn’t let our achievements define who we are – because that sets us up for emotional failure where it shouldn’t be.

Someone who identifies with being the best at a particular skill will lose a part of who they are if another person becomes better than them. When a person’s identity is wrapped up in a past accomplishment or a certain set of skills, then they have an unhealthy foundation.

In our passage, the unnamed disciple appears to identify with the magnificent buildings as amazing accomplishments from a human perspective. But Jesus reminded him, and all of us, that the really important things in life are not physical in nature. The best accomplishments and achievements we can do as a species could in seconds be turned to rubble if hit with the right natural disaster.

Instead, Jesus warns us to not focus on the achievements of humanity and instead, He subtly suggests that we focus solely on doing God’s will, focusing on what He would want us to focus on, and to resist getting caught up with what society and culture want us to pay attention to.

With this said, as we come to the close of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Be sure to continually seek God first in your life and intentionally focus on the things He wants us to focus on. While there is nothing wrong with pursuing greatness, we must always keep our motives in check for why we are pushing towards a particular goal. If the motives revolve around self, self-esteem, or even self-worth, then these are negative motives in God’s eyes. Instead, if the motives relate to helping others, giving glory to God, or spreading the news about Jesus to a certain group of people, then these are positive motives in God’s eyes.

As we are focusing on the things God wants us to focus on, be sure to study the Bible for yourself to keep your relationship and connection with Him strong. Unless you are neglecting helping others in the world, you will never hear God tell you He wants you to spend less time in your Bible and in prayer. For most people, prayer and Bible study are among the first things that get crowded out of a busy schedule. This regular challenge is to resist giving up on personal Bible study when life gets busy, because Bible study, at least for me, helps me stay in the right frame of mind and it helps us have the best perspective on this life that we can have – and it helps us have a strong relationship with God too.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 40: Cam discusses a short teaching moment Jesus has with one of His disciples as they were leaving Jerusalem, and we focus in on why the truth Jesus shares is incredibly relevant for us living in the 21st century.

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