Mark 13:1-13 – As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately. Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?
Predicting the Future
It’s in our very nature to want to know details about what will be happening tomorrow and beyond. Years ago, when I served on the Board of Directors for Camp Omega, we were constantly working on our five year plan and once in awhile a 10 or 25 year plan. My take away from that process was that I wasn’t very good at the long term planning process. In recent months, Pastor Muther and I have begun to talk about what a three year or five year plan of ministry might look like here at Trinity. My take away from those discussions is that I’m not very good at seeing into the crystal ball. This past week, Debi and I traveled to Florida on a Monday morning in preparation for our son Noah and Jenna’s wedding. That very evening, Debi wanted to know what was the plan for the next seven days. I hemmed and hawed around for awhile, and at a certain point, with a mildly stern look on her face, she suggested that I find a pen and pad and write some things down. And so we wrote down a plan for the six days in front of us, when we might go visit our one daughter staying at a resort an hour away, when we might visit Noah and Jenna, two hours away, when we needed to pick up our other daughter and family at the Orlando airport, when we needed to pick up some friends at the Tampa airport, and the list went on. All kinds of details on which to decide. Should we swim at the pool or the ocean? Should we eat breakfast with these friends or with family? What would be the plan? My take-away from that discussion is that Debi cares more about forecasting the future than I, and a second takeaway is that I need to care more!
In our Gospel lesson for today, a disciple had just remarked to Jesus how massive were the stones and how magnificently were they carved and laid into wonderful buildings in the Temple area. Jesus replied by warning them that what they were seeing with their own eyes would not only be deserted and left desolate, but destroyed. Not one stone would be left on another. To which four of the disciples asked Jesus to tell them more. When will this happen? What signs should they be looking for? What is the plan? Three answers Jesus gives them and us today about the plan for end times and His Second Coming.
First, the plan is to stay (focused) on proclaiming the Gospel, no matter who is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. The idiom “to pull the wool over someone else’s eyes” simply means to deceive, to hide from people what is true. It may well go back to the 16th and 17th centuries where both women and men would wear wigs made of wool. Already in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus forewarned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.
Already in Jesus’ day, there were Sadducces who were leading people to believe there was no resurrection of the body. Pharisees were teaching that people could be saved by outward observance of the law. Judaizers were teaching that the laws of circumcision still applied and that Christ wasn’t quite enough. Over the years there would come the religions of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Within the Christian churches there would arise all kinds of antichrists and in the end times The Antichrist. See to it that no one leads you astray, Jesus would say again to us today.
Stay focused on Jesus Christ the great high priest who has offered up the one sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Stay focused on Him who has in fact risen and appeared and ascended and is even now sitting at the right hand of the Father ruling all of heaven and earth. Stay focused on Him who has already accomplished the plan of salvation and who will at the appointed time come back again to judge the living and the dead.
Stay focused, even when good and decent people all around you have fallen for the lie that the Bible is not entirely true, have fallen for the lie that in the end pretty much everybody is going to be ok, have fallen for the lie that marriage isn’t really what God says it is, have fallen for the lie that life in all of its stages isn’t necessarily to be protected, fallen for the lie that there are many different ways to get to heaven, fallen, have fallen for the lie that there is no particular urgency to take the Gospel to the far corners of the world. Lesson #1 – the plan is for Christians and local congregations to stay focused on our Lord’s plan for the Gospel to be proclaimed to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Secondly, The plan is to stay (calm), no matter how bad the news gets. Jesus would teach us not to be alarmed when we hear of wars and rumors of war, to not be alarmed when nations rise against nation and kingdoms against kingdoms. There will be earthquakes, to be sure, and famines will be dreadful. Sin will have its consequences in every corner of our world, in nature itself, but Christian men and women need to stay calm. In the same way that Pastor and Laura (hopefully stayed) calm as birth pains began, so also are the people of God in every day of trouble to be still and know that God is God.
A good friend of mine shared this insight with me in recent days. He said that when he and his wife were going through days of uncertainty and trial, he had learned the importance of sitting down and calmly discussing what they knew and what they did not know. To focus on what was reality and what they could control and to trust God for what only He knew and could handle.
Reality these days is that this year 150,000 Christians will be martyred. Reality is that 200 million Christians are being denied basic human rights today for one reason, they believe in Jesus as Savior. Reality is that there are Christians in Afghanistan who worship together, and by doing so, they risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Reality is that there are teenagers in Sudan who are staking their claim for Jesus at the risk of torture, banishment, and death. Reality is that the real war on Christmas is worldwide and that what we experience at Starbucks and in our public squares barely registers on the Richter scale, in comparison to Islamic and totalitarian regimes across the seas.
And yet we stay calm no matter how bad the news gets. Rather than be shaken to our very core, there is a peace that surpasses all human understanding that is ruling on the inside. Rather than wondering what this world is coming to, we say to one another what we know to be true, that Jesus Christ has already come into our world, that He lived the perfect life we needed Him to live, that He suffered all that we needed Him to suffer, that He died the death we needed Him to die, that He rose up again on the Third Day, ascended into heaven on the 40th day, and to this very day He is ruling all of heaven and earth with authority and for the benefit of His Church.
And because all of that Good News is true and has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, lesson #2 today is this: the plan is that we stay calm. The bad news just doesn’t get to us the way it gets to those who aren’t really sure in whom they trust. Afflicted but not crushed. Perplexed but not driven to despair. Persecuted but not forsaken. Struck down but not destroyed.
Third, the plan is to (work hard), even as we rest in His promises. One of the problems with staying calm in the face of adversity is that we would be tempted to just retreat into our comfortable zones in life and give little attention to the mission of the church. Jesus made sure His early disciples were trained well, He made sure they knew the Holy Spirit would be giving them the words to say, He made sure they knew that it wasn’t going to be easy at all, but most of all He made sure they knew that they had hard work to do. They were to be highly motivated, but not worried. Energized, but not anxious. Hard working but not stressed out.
Is it even possible to be hard working but not stressed out. Energized but not anxious. Highly motivated without worrying? Yes, it is. So long as we put First Things First. Jesus put first things first when He set His face towards Jerusalem and for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, He scorned the shame, and He was crucified all the way to death and burial.
The early disciples were to put first things first by never forgetting that the Gospel must first be preached to all nations, and secondly the end would come. First their God would be perfectly faithful to them, and secondly they would faithfully preach the Word in season and out of season, whether people wanted to hear it or not. First, the signs of the end would be fierce, and secondly, Christ would come again. First there would be birth pains, and secondly, all who were appointed for salvation would be born again.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people in all the stages of life, but more and more the Spirit of God is drawing them closer and closer to their Savior. More contented with what they have, less complacent about what they are to be doing. More likely to cherish the truths of Scripture, less likely to follow the fads and the fashions all around them. These days, by the grace of God, they are learning again the value of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and trusting that all these other things will be added in due time.
They have heard the old saying that “those to fail to plan are planning to fail.” With that in mind, their plan is to stay focused on proclaiming the Gospel, no matter who is trying to lead them astray. Their plan is to stay calm, no matter how crazy and upside down their world gets. And although they’re not always sure how to strike the right balance, they plan on working hard on their God appointed assignments, even as they rest in His promises. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther