Here is one of my favorite Gary Larsen “Far Side” cartoons. That boy is just like us. We’re not too good at reading the signs.The disciples were not too good at reading the signs; at least, not the signs that matter. They were sitting there opposite the massive Temple, gaping at the shining stones and dazzling jewels, perhaps thinking silently that the Temple building is what connects them to God. Then Jesus, unimpressed, tells them, “All of that is going to be nothing more than a pile of rubble.” The disciples, shocked, ask, “Teacher, when will this be? What will be the sign that this will take place?”
They want to know when the Temple will be destroyed. They want a sign to look for. I can’t help but chuckle at Jesus’ answer, because it’s so obvious. The sign is not esoteric, hidden or mysterious at all. Basically Jesus tells them, “Well, when you see an army camped around the Temple about to take it over, that’s going to be the end of it. They’re going to tear it down.” Here’s your sign. Sure enough, around the year A.D. 70 a large Roman army razed the Temple to the ground: not one stone left on another, every one of them thrown down. The sign Jesus gave could be trusted.
In the next breath, though, Jesus goes on to speak of other signs. Jesus moves from describing the signs of the destruction of the Temple to describing the signs that will be seen when he returns, when he comes again in final victory. And again, his message seems to be that signs of the final victory will be obvious. They won’t be esoteric or mysterious or hidden. He says, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, the roaring of the sea, people fainting, the powers of the heavens shaken, the Son of Man coming in a cloud.”
I don’t know about you, but if tomorrow I were to see crazy stuff happening in the sun and moon and stars and then see the Son of Man surfing a cloud up at the sky, I won’t need an expert in the end times to let me know that maybe something’s going on. In a sense, the Kingdom of God is always near. And when it comes in its fullness, Jesus says, “Trust me, you’ll know.” So we don’t have to be like the little kid on the long car trip who keeps asking every ten minutes, “Are we there yet?” “Are we almost there yet?” When we get there, we’ll know.
The kingdom is near, and it's coming with all its fullness soon. And until then, I can't help but think that Jesus is more interested in the signs to be seen here on earth than the signs to be seen in the heavens -- not signs in the sun and moon and stars, but signs in you and me. We're not so much looking for signs; we are the signs. Signs of God's kingdom. We live the heavenly life here on earth, signs pointing to God's good future and final victory.
The theologian Karl Barth had a painting of the crucifixion by the artist Matthias Grunewald on the wall of his study. In the painting there is an image of John the Baptist, his extra long finger raised, directing and pointing the onlooker to the cross of Jesus. It’s said that when Barth would talk with visitors about his work, he would direct them to John the Baptist in the painting, and he would say, “I want to be that finger.” I want to be a sign pointing to the victory of Christ.”
We are the people who have read the end of the book. We know how the story ends. We know God is victorious. And so we as God’s people, in our life of love together, it’s not that we stand on a corner holding a sign that says, “The End is Near.” But we live in such a way that our life is a sign reading, “The New Beginning is Near.” We are the beachhead of the kingdom. We’re like the trailer of a movie that makes people look forward to seeing the full show. We’re like the warm-up act that gets people pumped up for the concert that is about to begin. We’re the appetizer that makes people hunger for the full feast. People don’t have to travel through time on a mysterious island or gaze into a crystal ball to look into the future. They can simply look at the life of the faithful, loving Christian. The sign Jesus gives can be trusted.