Good morning! We are nearing the end of our study through the Gospel of Mark. Five of the 16 chapters in Mark tell the story of Jesus’ last week on earth. Today we are in chapter 13. Chapter 13 focuses on Jesus’ teaching concerning the days between his leaving and his return - the time in which we now live.
It’s a critical chapter for us to try and understand. Are you interested? Let’s open our Bibles to Mk 13. It’s probably Wednesday of Holy Week. The next day Jesus will celebrate the Last Supper with his disciples, 12 hours later, he would be hanging on the cross. He’s been teaching the crowds in the temple courts and as they leave the temple mound, one of the disciples said “Look Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” Mk 13:1
One of these stones is still there for tourists to see. It’s longer than a modern railroad car and more than twice as wide. It’s twelve feet thick and weighs 570 tons. Modern railroad cars only carry 100 tons. How did these engineers cut and move these stones with such precision? Some say they were helped by aliens from outer space. I prefer what the Bible says. Human beings were created in the image of God who is the source of our ingenuity!
Remember Jesus is the Ancient of Days. He’s seen this all before. He’s watched every tower built by men go up and come down. From the tower of Babel to the temple of Herod to the twin towers in New York City, the history of men is littered with the bones of majestic buildings and towers. They’re all impressive, but all of them are temporary.
Jesus responds to the disciples, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Mk 13:2
Less than 40 years later Herod’s temple, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world will be completely dismantled by the Romans. The disciples are dumbfounded. How can this be? An hour later, Peter, James, John and Andrew ask Jesus privately, “When will this take place? What will be the signs that these things are all about to be fulfilled?” Mk 13:4
But before we go any further, we’re going to cheat and jump head to verse 32. Jesus answers their question but not the way they hoped. He says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” Mk 13:32
Jesus isn’t only referring to the destruction of Herod’s temple; he’s referring to the end of the world. If what Jesus said is true, then why do people still comb the Bible looking for clues as to the end of the age and the second coming of Jesus? Here’s the point - Jesus’ purpose in Mk 13 is not to help us figure out when he’s coming back, it’s to help us faithfully deal with the troubles of life between his leaving and his return – the time we’re living in right now.
Tough times are ahead. Jesus gives us some help in how to deal with it…
• Vs 5 “Watch out that no one deceives you pretending to be me!”
• Vs 7 “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed.”
• Vs 9 “Be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.”
• Vs 10 “The Gospel must be preached to all nations.”
• Vs 11 “You will be arrested and brought to trial. Don’t worry about what to say, it will be given you at the time by the Holy Spirit.”
• Vs 12 “Brother will betray brother to death. Children will rebel again their parents and have them put to death.”
• Vs 13 “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
• Vs 18 “Pray”
• Vs 23 “Be on your guard”
• Vs 35 “Keep watch!”
This is sobering stuff! Yet it shouldn’t surprise us or fill us with fear. These realities will be with us until the Lord’s return. As we look back through history there have been many times when things got so bad, everyone thought it was the end, but it wasn’t. Paul wrote in Romans 8 that the whole world is in the pangs of childbirth waiting for the Lord’s return.
I’m no expert, but I’m told that the closer a woman gets to the birth of her baby, the more painful it becomes. The closer we get to his return, the more intense the battle will become.
Look at vs 14. “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak…”
This reminds me of the warning the angels gave to Lot’s family before the Lord’s judgment fell on Sodom and Gomorrah. As believers there is a time to flee from the wickedness in the world and there’s a time to stand and bear witness for God, even to the point of death!
Paul tells us to flee the evil desires of our youth but James tells us to resist the devil and he will flee from us. As God’s people we need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to know when to flee from evil and temptation and when to stand fast in the armor of the Lord.
The “abomination that causes desolation” refers to an idol or false god that will be set up in the Lord’s place in Jerusalem. All of these things happened just as Jesus described in the days following the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. But an even more vicious idol will be set up before the Lord returns. Look at verse 20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.” Mk 13:20
Jump down to vs 30 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away.” Mk 13:30-31 Jesus’ words literally came true for the people of Israel less than 40 years later, but his warning includes our generation today. We see this great and ancient battle between the Lord and his people and the forces of evil playing out in many places in our world today.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago recently told a group of fellow priests. “The growing secularization and anti-religious sentiment of American culture is a much larger issue than political causes or the outcome of the presidential elections. It is a warning of future persecution in the United States. The world divorced from the God who created and redeemed it inevitably comes to a bad end. It is on the wrong side of history.” Cardinal Francis George of Chicago
He’s right! In recent years there has been an overt attempt to rewrite American history to match a world view that rejects God, the Bible and Christian faith. This view denies Jesus and accuses Christians of being the source of evil in the world. But an honest study of human history testifies to just the opposite. Jesus warns us in Mk 13 that this divide between God’s truth and human propaganda will deepen as we get closer to his return.
Jump down to vs 26, “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will sent his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.’ Mk 13:26-27 It appears the truth of who God is will become increasingly irrefutable the closer we get to Jesus return. Some will take heed and repent, but many will harden their hearts even more. These adversaries of God will attack believers and try to silence them. Persecution will increase dramatically as the time for the Lord’s return nears.
Cardinal George of Chicago went on to tell his fellow priests “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” Cardinal Francis George 2014
Maybe, maybe not! Does mean Jesus is coming soon? Maybe, maybe not! I hope so! But whether Jesus’ return is near or far, we have a job to do. Again and again through the last 2,000 years, God has used Christians to bring a message of truth and hope, anchored in the death and resurrection of Jesus, into the despair and rubble of one failed culture after another. He’ll do the same for us here in America whatever may happen in the days ahead.
Jesus tells us, “Don’t be afraid, but be on your guard lest you be deceived! Watch, pray, bear witness through the power of the Holy Spirit wherever he sends you!” He warns us a time is coming when “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Mk 13:13
So how do we prepare for Jesus’ return? How do we fight this battle? First, we stay close to Jesus. We repent of our sins, the sins of the church, and the sins of our nation: the sins of pride, racism, sexual immorality, greed, lust for power, and a callous disregard for human life. We pray as Jesus did, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
Second, we seek the mind of Christ. We make it our aim to think and act as he would. We seek to know our Bible and to live by it no matter what happens, no matter what each new day may hold. We invest all that we are/have into building his kingdom not ours!
Third, we lay hold of Jesus and the work he did for us on the cross. We refuse to claim any righteousness of our own. Is there any hope, any joy, any future? Absolutely – but not in us. Not in anything build by human hands. Our hope, our joy, our laughter is in Jesus! He has already won the victory over sin, death and the devil. But our job is to live it out here/now!
Jesus is coming soon to take us to the place he’s prepared for us. I can’t wait! Pastor David Halaan told me this week that he asked a 25 year old woman here in Whitefish if she knew who Jesus was. She said, “I have no idea.” Would you like to know? She said, “Yes”. Don’t be afraid. We have much work to do. God is on the move! Let’s get at it!