Faith or Fear
“Faith or Fear?”
We are once again in Mark chapter 13. Please turn there in your Bibles please. So, at the outset, I must tell you that I’ve made an executive decision to finish the chapter this morning. Are we ok with that? So edit the text in your bulletin and sermon notes as we will be covering verses 14-37 this morning. (And for those who are studying the questions through the Swordsmanship handout, I will see that the revised questions for next Sunday are posted this week on the web.) We are in Mark 13.14-37. You know, we recently went through the Book of Revelation. And I found that to be a challenging book to preach through. In some respects much of that study was easier than this chapter in Mark’s Gospel – at least clearer.
The challenge of Mark 13 is that you don’t have clear, definitive understandings of the time frames of Jesus’ teaching. In other words, Jesus offers prophecies regarding both the near and distant future without clearly defining them. I think this is intentional and I’ll tell you why later in the message. So, in order to get your mind around these signs and exhortations, you want to be able to identify which part of the future Jesus is referring to – near or distant. In this particular case, no definitiveness is forthcoming. Recall that this was the disciples’ wish in verse 4: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign?” And Jesus responds with a “see that no one leads you astray.” He is not overly concerned with the disciples knowing precise times and dates.
And as we explore further in the chapter, it was challenging to try to get a general grasp on the events that Jesus refers to and if they had been fulfilled in previous generations or if they remain to be fulfilled in the last days. And just to make it more challenging, if you read five commentaries on the passage, you may have had five different interpretations on the times. But we cannot allow the ambiguity to make us lazy or throw up our hands in despair. We just roll up the sleeves and work a little harder and conclude that there are timeless principles for the believer regardless of the fulfillment of these events. And I do think there are some indicators that provide us with some clues and boundaries. With that preface, let’s read the text. READ Mark 13.14-37.
Last week, we looked at the first thirteen verses and saw Jesus’ response to the external beauty of the temple. Then, when asked about the times when it would be destroyed, Jesus exhorts them to spiritual discernment and finally the persecution they would endure for the sake of Jesus and the message of the Gospel. They would be hated by all and yet the gospel would continue to spread until it reaches all nations.
I will address our text in three points based largely on my best understanding of the times. If we were to break down the chapter into time frames, it would be best understood like this. The first thirteen verses primarily would be carried out within the times of the disciples. Verse 14-27 deal primarily with the end times. Verses 28-31 deal primarily within the first century. And verses 32-37 are primarily regarding the end times. Now, the reason I said primarily is because there are also some things that cannot be definitively isolated into such neat structures. And I don’t think Jesus is so concerned with doing so anyway.
In last week’s message there were some timeless principles and application that we drew from events that largely occurred in the first century. We continue to need to be discerning from false christs and prophets who seek to lead believers astray. Wars, famines and natural disasters continue to occur and yet these remain only the beginnings of birth pains. Inasmuch as the first disciples were persecuted and martyred for their faith, so will current disciples of Jesus. Physical families continue to be divided because of allegiance to Jesus Christ. The Gospel message is offensive to many, and so we will be hated by those who would prefer that we would not say that salvation is to be found in Jesus alone. And the strong call to perseverance remains with us today.
The points from the sermon will be derived largely from the way that I believe Mark identifies them. They will be “These Things,” “Those Days,” and “That Day.” These indicators provide clues. The first point, “These Things” provide Jesus’ teaching on the generation of the first century. And we find these words in verses 28-31.
Jesus begins by referring back to the lesson from the fig tree that we saw in Mark 11. Jesus uses the cursing of the fig tree to point to the eradication of the temple sacrificial system. It was an abused system that took advantage of the most vulnerable. And it would also be obsolete within the week. Jesus, the perfect and eternal sacrifice, would be offered up in a mere few days time.
The disciples are encouraged to understand these times where the temple would be replaced by this sacrifice. “Summer” has positive connotations. We anticipate the therapeutic heat that follows dark, cold winter. Summer is near. “He” is near, at the very gates. This language implies an imminence things changing. In this case, it is the replacement of temple with Jesus. These things are evident. In light of recent conversations, the disciples should have a better understanding of the ramifications of these events.
And these things are certain! Notice the words of Jesus in these verses. In verse 29, he says that they “know” that he is near. In verse 30, Jesus begins with saying, “truly.” “I say to you.” Jesus, the Son of God says “Truly, no doubt about it. This will come about. I say to you.” Recall his words from Mark 9 when Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
In case the disciples needed a reminder, he adds, “heaven and earth will pass away, but not my words!” “Take a look around. You observe the majesty and creativity of the earth and you are overwhelmed by the heavens. I made them.” Jesus makes a distinction between the creation and the Creator – the temporal and the eternal. Listen to the words of Psalm 102, “25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, 27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.”
One day all that we see will pass away. Despite all the efforts of the “green” agenda, our efforts are only temporal. Ultimately, we cannot preserve this creation. It is on borrowed time groaning for the times to come to an end. Don’t misunderstand me. We have a responsibility to care for the creation we’ve been blessed with. But these efforts must not consume us.
In contrast, divine words are eternal. Psalm 119:89 “89 Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” Isaiah 40:8 “8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” And 1 Peter says that the believers has been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. And then he quotes the Isaiah passage – the word of the Lord remains forever.
Believer, do you find comfort in this great truth? The Lord Jesus speaks with absolute authority and with great certainty. He informs his disciples of the things that must take place. And then he reassures them that despite the apparent chaos that surrounds them… in spite of the fact that they will see their friend hanging on a tree, and buried… in spite of the fact that they will be ridiculed, persecuted and murdered because of their faith… “I say to you… my words will not pass away.” Listen to these words from Isaiah 51. “6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.” These things will take place.
And then there are Those Days. We see those days referred to five times in verses 14-27. Mark begins the section by referring to Jesus remarks about the abomination of desolation. This would have conjured up the words by the prophet Daniel as he prophesied a time of “desolations.” And in chapter 9, Daniel records, “Daniel 9:24–26 “24 “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”
This is an event that many believe has multiple fulfillments. And it is encompassed in a man – an abomination that causes desolation. We know that in 168 BC a man by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes sacrificed a pig on the Jewish altar – an abomination to the Lord. And it is believed that there will also be another fulfillment alluded to by Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians. In chapter 2, Paul explains the return of Jesus. 2 Thessalonians 2:1–4 “1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”
Jesus continues with strong exhortations for many to flee to mountains, to make haste. He speaks of the difficulty of being pregnant and nursing infants. These verses are a bit difficult. But I think he is speaking against a strong and blind nationalism. Where people may be inclined to congregate at the temple in these times of difficulty, it would only lead to demise. He is encouraging them to survive, it would seem. If this were referring to the first century, it would make sense because we now know that the temple as well as the city was destroyed. And if they rushed to the temple, it would lead only to destruction. Then Jesus would be concerned with only the people and not the temple.
But we see in verse 19, this can’t be the case. Jesus adds that in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of creation that God created until now, and never will be.” Having studied Revelation regarding a time yet in the future, we could confidently conclude that this would refer to a tribulation that is yet to come. There may be some foreshadows in the destruction of Jerusalem. But the destruction at the end of time will be universal and cataclysmic.
Now look at verse 20. The Lord will cut short the days. For the sake of the elect, he shortened the days. I don’t think the emphasis false on the doctrine of election here (where God chooses some to be saved). Rather, Jesus is emphasizing the sovereignty of the Father. God has appointed a definite time when history comes to a close. Sure, there will be times when we question what is going on in the world as we see famines, and earthquakes, flooding, persecution of Christians. There will be apparent chaos. And yet it isn’t chaos. It is part of the plan. And, he tells the disciples and us all these things ahead of time. And in his mercy, he cuts short the days. He has every right to prolong them as long as he wishes. But he cuts them short.
We talked last week about the importance of discernment because of the false christs and prophets and messages we do and will encounter. It is interesting here in verse 22 that they will also be more tempting because of signs and wonders. Let me ask you, do you think we encounter this at all today?? If so, what could it look like? If these imposters possess great powers and seek to lead people away from Christ, they are of Satan. There are reports of miraculous things going on around the world today. How do we determine if they are of God or Satan? We tread a fine line here, don’t we? On one hand, we cannot dismiss the awesome power of God and his involvement of the world. On the other hand, if the miraculous does not produce fully committed followers of Christ, but the miracles, does it not lead people astray and to hell?
Jesus says, “be on guard. I have told you these things beforehand.” We cannot afford to be lazy or complacent here. Our souls are at stake. The souls of friends and family are at stake. Today we are susceptible to forfeiting our souls because we are not diligent in the Word of God! And we are at risk to succumbing to the workings of the Enemy. Be on guard!! 2 Thessalonians 2:9–10 “9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
In those days after the tribulation, He returns! I believe that verses 24-27 are meant to be a source of tremendous encouragement. Jesus says that the sun and moon will go dark, stars fall from heaven, powers in the heavens are shaken. Then… they will see the Son of Man… no more as the humble servant who came as a baby… no more as the one who submitted to wicked rulers to die on a cross… He comes back as the Son of Man with great power and glory! Do you understand the image of the clouds? Remember that the cloud in the Old Testament was where the glory of the Lord was manifested. In Exodus, the people looked to the cloud where the glory of the Lord was. The Lord came to Moses in a thick cloud. When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered the mountain and the glory of the Lord dwelt on Mt. Sinai. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent.
Daniel 7:13–14 “13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Matthew 26:64 “64 Jesus said to him, I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
In great irony, Jesus has recently just predicted his humiliation and death as the Son of Man in Mark 8.31; 9.31; 10.33-34. And soon after he says the Son of Man will return in quite the opposite way.
And in his authority and power and glory he will send out his servants, his angels to do his bidding. And in this case it will be to bring his children home. The angels will go out to the ends of the earth to gather his elect and bring them to him. This is the idea of the four winds, the ends of the earth and heaven. This is complete. One commentator makes this remark: “the elect are as widespread and diverse as all creation, but they converge at a single point; the Son of Man. Jesus is the focal point of divine redemption.” Amen! On that day, we will be joined with brothers and sisters from all tongues, tribes, nations and languages and we will worship him together. In those days the Son of Man returns.
Verse 32. The third point: And on That Day who knows?? I mentioned at the outset of the chapter that the objective of Jesus’ teaching is not the creation of elaborate and detailed charts of the end of time. I also mentioned a few minutes ago that I believe that this text is ambiguous intentionally. First, Jesus says that he doesn’t even know when. Nor the angels.
I didn’t have time to process and develop this thought. So I would invite you to think about this. Jesus doesn’t know! And yet he trusts the Father. Why did he come? To do the will of the Father. Does Jesus here demonstrate absolute trust in the Father and invite us to do the same? Perhaps Jesus is indicating that his knowledge of the character of his Father is such that he knows God is trustworthy and doesn’t need to know when he will bring things to their appointed end.
Another reason the timing is vague is to protect us. It is to protect us from complacency. Listen to the words of the late Charles Simeon. Regarding the unknown timing, Simeon writes, “And there was good reason why it should be concealed; because if it had been represented as at a great distance of time, men might have become secure; whereas the idea of its speedy arrival tended to quicken all to holy exertion. In like manner the uncertainty of the time of our death has a very salutary effect; since it necessitates us to be always ready.” The uncertainty of the timing of the Lord’s return is to become a motivation for faithful discipleship and service.
Notice the very next words again in verse 33. Be on guard, keep awake! You do not know when the Son of Man will return. It’s like a man on a journey. He leaves and puts the servants in charge. He tells the doorkeeper, “Stay awake!” Therefore, “Stay awake! You don’t know when he’ll be back!”
I remember when I was a big-time partier. My dad served in the National Guard in the States. After my parents got divorced, he’d often go away on training for the weekends and I’d have the house to myself. Or he’d go on vacation somewhere. I’d have parties. One time he came back unexpectedly. If I was unsure of his return, I would have been on better behavior. I would have been awake.
If Jesus had said, “Listen. I’ll be back January 1, 2020,” how hard would we pursue holiness until then? We’d probably keep a close eye on our calendars and watches… Stay awake! You don’t know what time the master will come!
I shared with a couple of the guys yesterday how I had struggled a bit this past week. In my utter sinfulness, I found myself discontent in my sermon preparation. Sunday always looms for the pastor. The sermon has to get done. Normal people usually clock out after work and enjoy themselves by riding bikes, playing with family, going out on their motorcycles now that it’s nice out! You know all the things I don’t enjoy doing at all! After wallowing in my pity and envy of the pleasures of others, I was convicted by the Holy Spirit and he graciously reminded me that I deserved nothing. After putting me to the floor of that truth, he then reminded me where he has brought me – from a life of worldliness and destruction to a life dedicated to studying his Word. And as I pondered this text, he made me aware of how more awake I am now than ever before. Those who were out strolling in the nice weather may not have been on guard for his return. They were oblivious to their unpreparedness for the Son of Man to return.
A few thoughts here. There is nothing wrong with enjoying recreation in the sun – in moderation. We live in an age where we can be distracted to our destruction and lulled to sleep. We are immersed in the temporal and ignorant of the eternal. Be on guard! Stay Awake! And instead of envying their time, I should be praying for their salvation and taking initiatives to prepare them to stay awake! Not woe is me, but woe are they who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ!
Are you ready for the return of the Son of Man? Does the thought evoke great faith or great fear?? If you don’t know Christ, none of us here can tell you when he will return. Nobody knows except the Father. The text here seems to indicate that it can happen anytime! The exhortation for you is not “stay awake,” but “wake up!” You need to first be awakened to the glory of Jesus Christ and repent and trust in him!”
The exhortation to the believer is to be vigilant in the Word and your obedience to it. Be discerning so that you are not lead astray by an imitation – a false Christ, a false message. This is one of the reasons that we have been called to this together. We are active and intentional in each others’ lives so that we can sharpen each other, admonish each other, encourage each other, and pray for one another. Mark 13:35–37 “35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”