JULY 14th, 2019 PASTOR DON PIEPER
Right On the Mark 2 Pet 3:3-4,8-14/Mk 13:1-23
“THE DAY IS COMING...!”
Our series in Mark brings us to chapter thirteen, where Jesus' teaching takes an abrupt apocalyp-tic turn. Jesus has just pointed out a woman at the temple who's given her last coin to God's work, but
his disciples seem a bit distracted. Instead of reflecting on what Jesus has just shown them, they com-ment on the beauty and stability of the temple's limestone walls, remodeled by King Herod the Great, who rebuilt the temple not to bring God glory but to make a name for himself and to save face with the people before building himself an impressive new palace.
As the disciples ooh and ah, Jesus makes a shocking statement: “Yes, look at these great build-ings and yet they will be utterly demolished, not one stone will remain atop another!” (Mark 13:2)
The disciples are like, say what? The temple is Israel's greatest asset, with its 40-foot columns and its mammoth foundational stones weighing in at more than 100 tons – it's virtually indestructible, indestructible say as the Pentagon or the World Trade Center towers.
His comment so unsettled them, that his inner core of disciples asked him about it later. As they sat at the Mount of Olives, across the beautiful Kidron Valley, taking in the view, they asked: “When will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4)
Jesus' response goes well beyond what is asked. He intermingles signs and events of the near future, that will transpire prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, with those to occur when his return is imminent and the end of ages is near. His response is a warning to his disciples – past, present and future and is one of the only passages to appear in all four gospels, as well as in the letters written by the apostles to the early church. As Peter put it: “I want to remind you of what will happen in the last days...” (2 Peter 3:3) So why the warning and why is it repeated throughout the New Testament?
Well, let me ask you this: have you ever said or been told the following...? 'Don't touch that! It's hot; you'll burn yourself!' 'Don't eat that! It was on the ground; its yucky!' 'Don't cross your eyes or they'll get stuck that way!' 'Watch what you're doing...!' 'Put on your jacket! Your mom is cold!'
Any of those sound at all familiar? Christian comedian, Tim Hawkins, has fun with our ten-dency as parents to issue such warnings, suggesting that some parental warnings come a tad late...
[DVD clip from Tim Hawkins video: ]
Timing is everything...! As parents or caretakers we give warnings to our children because we love and care for them. We warn them to protect them from serious harm. We give our children warnings to help guide them on the right path and help them become cautious and alert. For similar reasons, Jesus provides a warning, lest our trust, in the end, becomes misplaced.
Our reading this morning is the first half of Jesus' response to the disciples' 2 questions: “When will all this happen? What sign will show that these things are about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4)
Jesus answers the first question in v. 32:“No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (13:32) As Peter affirms: “The day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief in the night.” (2 Peter 3:10)
So Jesus' warning is not so that they can pinpoint the date, any more than the signs he gave his disciples regarding the destruction of the temple, gave them the year and date. Instead of answering the question, 'when', Jesus redirects their focus to the dangers and implications ahead. To that end he provides seven distinct warnings and signs here in the first half of Mark 13.
First, Jesus warns his disciples that they will be at risk of being misled. “Don't let anyone mis-lead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the messiah.' They will deceive many.”
There's a long history of such deceptions. As Peter later wrote: “There were also false prophets in Israel of old, just as there will be false teachers among you...who will slander the truth.”
(2 Peter 2:1)
So many believers, in fact, were being misled by such deception within a generation of the church being born that John felt compelled to write a fourth gospel, revealing Jesus as the one and only Christ and son of the living God. The church of his day was in danger of being deceived by a new popular teaching called, gnosticism, that has become popular again in our day. As he, too, warned:
“Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.”
(1 John 4:1)
We've seen the dangers of being misled in our time as well. The tragedy of Jim Jones is the most famous but there have been many more since. Scripture warns that in the last days, so many will be misled that an apostate church will arise. I wonder if we aren't seeing the early signs already as many churches water down the truth of Scripture. Jesus warns: Watch out! Don't let anyone mislead you...!
Second, Jesus warns that wars and rumors of wars will cause some to panic. That's a pretty generic prophecy, as there has always been war..., but in this case it fits quite well with his prophecy, as the temple was destroyed during the Roman war with Israel from 68 to 70 AD.
During times of war, the instructive word is not to panic. “You will hear of wars and threats of war but don't panic. These things must take place. The end is not yet here.” (Mark 13:7)
We can remain calm because of Jesus' encouraging word here: These things must take place. Nothing of these events is taking God by surprise. No matter how evil men may become during times of war, Christ is still King of kings, and his Father, Lord of all time and space. These things must take place! It anticipates that moment when all of creation takes a knee, every creature, creed and race!
Jesus' third sign is found in the forces of the earth: “There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines”, (Mark 13:8), Jesus warns. Again, it’s a pretty broad stroke. All of history has been peppered with famines and earthquakes, as our friends down in California can once again attest to. It seems particularly relevant to its original audience as there were a number of earth-quakes, volcanoes and volcano induced famines during the first century or two. Pompeii would famously be rocked in 62 AD, for example, just eight years prior to the fall of Jerusalem.
Jesus broad stroke, generic style prophecies, are meant to be inclusive – they transcend time, warning Peter & Andrew and company, as well as Paul & Silas, and then Timothy...down to Don & co.
Point being, an increase in geological and meteorological danger is a sign that we may be getting close!
Jesus' fourth sign is his prophetic warning that his followers in the future will be arrested and persecuted. Again, directly relevant for his disciples' generation and the generation to follow. “When these things begin to happen, watch out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers.”
The seasons of persecution under certain Roman emperors such as Nero, Valerian and particu-larly Diocletian presented such opportunities. The last verse though rings out in a distinct Pauline way, as Mark's gospel and Paul's first letters are in circulation at nearly the same time. Certainly no one would stand trial before governors and kings more frequently than the apostle Paul! As it turned out, Paul was martyred in Rome no more than five years before the Romans sacked Jerusalem.
Jesus' fifth sign, like the fourth, is far less generic than the first three. “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.”
To a family focused, community driven culture like that of first century Judaism, Jesus disciples must've gasped at Jesus' warning. It was not only the destroyed buildings and the countless lives that would be cut short, it was the despair that God had abandoned them. Their despair would prompt more malice. Or, as it points to the future, it may point to a culture in which the government is able to corrupt and deceive its youth into misled loyalties. Just ask anyone who is old enough to remember the Nazi Youth, and how Hitler and his minions brainwashed a generation, fulfilling this prophecy to the tee. It happened just within the last hundred years. It could happen again.
What's more, Jesus warns, everyone will hate you because you are my followers. Hmm. That seems a lot less difficult to imagine, doesn't it? Just look how Christians are portrayed by the media...!
Jesus' sixth sign, is even more specific, referring to the desecration of the temple. This prophecy would've been a lot less difficult for his disciples to believe as such a thing had occurred before. King Nebuchadnezzar infamously did so back in 597 B.C., and one of Israel's own kings had sacrificed a pig to Zeus on the temple altar in 168 BC; and the Roman general Titus will fulfill this prophecy when he places a pagan idol on the altar upon Rome's military victory in 70 AD. Biblical prophecies recorded in Daniel and the Book of Revelation suggest it will occur yet again! Best to keep a watch out!
Finally, Jesus seventh sign, echoes back to the first, as Jesus again warns of false prophets: “If anyone tells you, 'Look, here is the Messiah,' or 'There he is'; don't believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God's chosen ones. Watch out! I have warned you in advance!” (Mark 13:21-23)
This warning doesn't seem to pertain to the temple's destruction. It serves instead as a transi-tional warning, drawing us into the second half of Jesus' response which we'll be reflecting on next week. It implies that at least some, if not all of the previous prophecies, also pertain to what follows, that is to not only his disciples' future, but ours as well. More on that next Sunday.
Suffice it to say, though, that Jesus issues the warning as a loving parent might, out of a protec-tive spirit of love and guidance. And the guidance? Watch out! Be alert! Live life on your toes!
The problem is, as Jesus' opening sign and warning suggest, we're at risk of being misled. So how do we stay vigilant? Three things spring out of our text. One, know the warning signs. Become a student of scripture, that is, of Jesus. We can't heed his warning if we don't know it!
Two, be prepared to give an answer for your faith. Those are Peter's words from his letters. That's not to dismiss Jesus' words about trusting the Spirit. I believe scripture points to our doing both. And this text, clearly shows, that even while it seems like the ship is sinking about you, your job is to try and bring as many other passengers along with you! Jesus says, “this will be your opportunity to tell (those opposed to me) about me. For the Good News must be preached to all nations!”
And as Peter notes: “God is being patient for your sake. He doesn't want anyone to be destroyed, but longs for everyone to repent (and be saved).” (2 Peter 3:9)
This is where reading up on apologetics can be so helpful. It helps to anticipate some of the most common arguments against the faith and to seek some insight on how to respond to them, relying on the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation with his divine sense of timing and inspired witness.
So how do we stay alert? One, know the warning signs; become a student of scripture. Two, live life with a purpose, God's purpose of using you to draw others to himself! Be prepared to give an answer for your faith, while in the moment, trusting on the Holy Spirit to speak through you.
And three, don't panic. Our peace comes from him who came that we may have life and have it abundantly. He has our best interests at heart. No matter the calamity, all of history, past, present and future, is in His able and loving hands. These, and still other things, must come to pass! Christ rules!