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Jesus and the End of an Age
Scripture: Mark 13:1-37
Track 16 of 19 in the Encountering a Changing World series
Sermon for Maundy Thursday, April 17, 2003.


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Sermon for Maundy Thursday, April 17, 2003
"Jesus and the End of an Age"
(Mark 13: 1 - 37)
G. Charles Sackett

Well, I'm sure you've seen it on somebody's name tag around here somewhere. It says, Ever Ready, our motto, our name. It's that class that Bill Gross teaches over here in the choir room. It's kind of an interesting title and motto, is it not? "Ever- Ready" - always ready - that's true of them, by the way, if you had been around this week and last when our week of e-people ?? were here and then later this week, you'd have seen a number of "Ever-Ready" class members here helping around the building, doing stuff, "Ever-Ready" - Just give ‘em a call. I'm gonna post their phone numbers for you, so if you need your lawn mowed or anything, you can get a hold of them, cause their "Ever-Ready." Sometimes I'm glad that - well, let me rephrase that - I kinda wish sometimes that technology was like that, don't you? "Ever-Ready!" Oh, it catches up with us eventually. And the second coming is not contingent on whether we can get our Power Point Program to work! He won't need it in order to tell us that He's coming.

I think Mark Chapter 13 is captured by that thought of being "Ever-Ready". Ah, if you have your Bibles, we're going to look at the latter part of that Chapter first, and then we'll go back to the beginning.

When we come down to this part of Jesus life, page after page after page we're in the last week, we're spending time listening to what he has to say to his disciples, as the last week of his life closes in. And this particular speech, this statement that he makes in Mark, is the longest statement he makes in the entire Gospel. Mark chooses to give this more attention than any other single thing that he records. The end of the Chapter starting in Verse 32 says this: Jesus is closing this discussion and says. "No one knows about that day, or hour, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard; (that's the fourth time, by the way, he will have said in this text, Be on guard, be prepared, be ready. Watch is technically the word. Be alert!) You don't know when that time will come. It is like a man going away, he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned tasks, and he tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore, keep watch - because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn - if he comes suddenly does not find you sleeping. What I say to you I say to everyone: Watch."

He closes this text the same way he opens it in Verse 5, pay attention! Watch. Be looking. Be aware! It seems to me that the simple message of the text is, that if we're going to be disciples, uncommon disciples if you will, we are going to be people who are always ready. That we will never be caught off guard because we will have listened carefully to what Jesus said and we will be paying attention to the times and the seasons - oh I don't think to the point that we're trying to set the date for it - that's one of the fascinating things that I observe in American culture. It's not just true in America, but has been in recent years in American culture. We're always trying to figure out when Jesus is coming. I just decided, that, frankly, if he didn't know when he was coming, there wasn't any sense in me trying to figure it out. I wasn't even going to worry about it. I figure he'll be coming up one of these days and we'll all know it when he gets here.

But there are some things in this text he tells us to be ready for. And I find that to be of great interest. It's really a simple discussion. If you look at the first four verses of this text he says (and the text says). As He was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what massive stones, what magnificent buildings!" Jesus replied, "Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another, everyone will be thrown down."

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?"

It's just a simple discussion about those magnificent buildings, those big rocks. It's a magnificent temple, frankly. It covered a lot of ground. It had been expanded numerous times under Herod's reign, in order to make it large enough for everybody that was traveling, to come to Jerusalem during those special occasions to be there. It really was a magnificent building. It would have gotten your attention. These are good Jewish men. And I remind you that in Mark's gospel, most of the time these good Jewish men have no clue what they're doing. They just don't ever seem to get it. They don't seem to catch on. You remember what he said, just - well, we talked about it very recently. Back up a chapter or two and he said, by the way, if you say to this mountain, be cast into the sea, it'll happen. I mean, he's already told them - this temple is not going to last - this era is not going to go on forever. It's just not going to be here. He came in and cleansed the temple, he talked about the fig tree, he withered the fig tree in the context of cleansing of the temple and they're still saying - WOW - look at this building - Isn't this building cool?! They just don't quite figure it out.

And so he warns them. There are some things that they ought to be aware of. If you look at Verse 5, you get the first of the warnings. Jesus said to them, "Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he!' and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, and famines; these are the beginning of birth-pangs."

"You must be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils; and flogged in synagogues; and on account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them, and the gospel must be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry before hand about what to say; just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

Don't be deceived he says. Don't be intimidated and whatever you do, don't be silent. I think what he's suggesting is that we're ready to speak in spite of our circumstances. There are some things that are going to happen. You ought to be warned about it now. There are some things that are going to occur, don't be deceived. People are going to come along and they're going to try to convince you that they are really ME, having already returned. They're NOT! And you're going to be in trouble! But don't worry about it, just be ready to speak. There's a word that needs to be said. The last thing that Jesus tells his disciples (of course Mark doesn't tell us this). Forgive me, I'm about to borrow from another gospel rather than Mark, because Mark ends with nothing happening. We'll discover that on Sunday. But the other writers remind us that Jesus last words to the disciples were, Go and tell. Go and talk. Go and make disciples. Go and announce the word and the early disciples did.

In spite of their circumstances, those early disciples kept that command. You read the opening chapters of the book of Acts and all of a sudden you realize, these people paid a great price. You remember Acts, Chapter 4? They are arrested because they are preaching. They're told to quit. They say NO! They're arrested again - they are beaten - and they say; you tell us, are we supposed to obey God or you? Thanks very much - they obey God - they go out and start preaching again! In fact, what they do is, they go home and they go to God and they say, by the way God, we've been told we're not supposed to say anything for you so if you don't mind, give us a little boldness. Now that's not the kind of prayer that I'm gonna pray. Frankly, if they tell me to be quiet, I'm going to pray, probably, that they leave me alone, not that God will give me more boldness to say more. They pray for boldness and God shakes the house.

The early church did it, everywhere they went. You remember Acts, Chapter 8, the first four verses? They were scattered all across the world. And it says in Verse 4 of Chapter 8; Everywhere they went, they preached about Jesus. They knew what to do. In fact, it's interesting, if you want to look at it, Colossians, Chapter 1, (we'll be back to Mark 13 in just a second) but, Colossians 1 has a fascinating remark directly related to this statement that Jesus makes in Mark 13.

See, a lot of people want to tell you that Mark, Chapter 13, the entire thing is about the second coming of Jesus. That's not true. I don't think! I think the first half of this Chapter is primarily about the destruction of Jerusalem. But the people who argue against that will tell you that he says, that the gospel has to be preached to the whole world before this thing happens, and obviously, the whole world hadn't heard the gospel, therefore there couldn't be the destruction of Jerusalem. Well, look at Paul's remark in Colossians, Chapter 1. It's a rather simple statement, Verse 6, all over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing - just as it has been doing among you, since the day you heard it and understood it. Paul understood, in his day, that the whole known world, as he understood it, had already heard the gospel. As far as they knew, under the inspiration of the spirit, this prophesy had been fulfilled. The whole world had heard the gospel. At least it had been preached among them.

I suspect that command still applies to "Go and Tell," to be ready to preach no matter what your circumstances. My only question is, will we? Will we have the courage of those early disciples to be people who speak, who are not intimidated by our world, but will have a voice, one that is willing to be heard. Oh, it's going to be difficult - you heard it in the text - Be on your guard - you're gonna get in trouble! But, go ahead and speak - say it anyway.

I don't know this lady's name - I, I looked and couldn't find it - it dates back to 1573. She was a young mother, who had been exposed to the first English translations of scripture, and had begun preaching this word that she had discovered - she was going about preaching the gospel in the streets of England, in the vernacular of the people, something basically, that just wasn't done, in fact, it just wasn't allowed. She, and several others had been arrested and had been put on trial. They had been condemned to be burned at the stake and one of the things that was said about her, particularly her, of the six that were arrested on that occasion, about her alone, it said, they screwed her tongue to the roof of her mouth because she wouldn't stop speaking about Jesus. Her son and his little brother were there the day that she was burned at the stake. The boy fainted at the site of his mother going up in flames. Later, he went through the ashes until he could find the screw that they used to seal his mother's tongue and he was never silent about Jesus, his entire life.

I find myself wondering. Do I have that kind of courage to speak no matter the circumstances? Am I willing to pay that price? Because normally, I'm quieted fairly easily. Well, here's the age-old question of course, that comes out of a text that has to do with the final coming of Jesus or the destruction of Jerusalem, which depends on where you put this. What would you do if you knew that Jesus was coming back tomorrow, or that, in this case, that the temple would be destroyed and the Jewish religion would be no more? Is there somebody that you'd like to talk to, if you just knew that tomorrow it was all over, is there somebody you'd call tonight? Well, all of us are thinking, yeah, sure would.

You know, I did some research here not too long ago about the demographics of Illinois, just kind of getting a feel for, you know, who lives here and all that stuff. You know, one of the amazing statistics I discovered is that the death rate in Illinois is 100%

I don't know when Jesus is coming, but I know this. Everybody in this town and this community is going to die eventually. I don't mean that to be morbid. I just mean, whether he comes or not, you're still going to meet HIM. And that impetus that you have to call them tomorrow, if you knew that Jesus was returning, shouldn't lesson just because you know, that you don't know that he is. It might change the way you approach them, but it shouldn't change the fact that you do approach them. Because the message is the same, we're not to be silent. Disciples are always ready to speak.

Well, when you come a little further in this text, you get to Verse 12, he picks this up again and says, Brothers will betray brothers to death, and a father will betray his child, children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death; all men will hate you because of me. But he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

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 and enter the house, to take anything out; let no one who is in the field go back in to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter. Because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning when God created the world until now, and never to be equaled again. 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. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!' or ‘Look, there he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect, if that were possible.

Here's the third warning! Be on your guard; Watch he says, I have told you everything ahead of time. Here is the announcement of the destruction of Jerusalem. That there will be this abomination that causes desolation. Israel had seen that before. If you go back and read in the Maccabees, they had slaughtered pigs on the altar already. There's a lot of debate about what this particular desolation happens to be. What it is, is a little hard to figure. Maybe it's when the Romans, who eventually under Titus, took over Jerusalem in 68 A.D. and sacked the temple by 70 A.D. and totally destroyed it. Maybe it's the time that they placed their standards there in the temple grounds, and they began to offer sacrifices to them - I'm not sure, I doubt it, in part because this is a warning to get out of town before that happens. But when you see this abomination coming, make sure you leave town. That is such an amazing warning, because I think it's so opposite of what, the way we usually look at it. I mean, if you knew that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, wouldn't you leave town now - instead of waiting until you see the tanks outside the city gates? Just leave now. Here's, I think, the point. Disciples are ready to suffer for the sake of the lost. Have you thought about this? If the disciples believed Jesus, that the City of Jerusalem is going to be destroyed, why not just leave now? I think the answer is because their family was there and their friends were there and there were non-Christians there and as long as that temple stood, they understood that there was an entire nation of people, their own Jewish heritage, that would not know Christ and had not yet responded to the gospel. And they had no other responsibility that they could think of, except to stay there and hang in there with those people until those people had an opportunity to hear the gospel. And so they stayed!

And Jesus says, when you see these certain signs, that's the time to leave and hope that it's not in winter, and hope that you're not pregnant. But when you leave, don't take time to go back for your coat because it will be too late by then. Get out when the getting's good. But it's interesting - they stayed as long as they could before they left.

There is a passion in the early church about reaching a lost world that is absolutely undeniable. And when you come to grips with who Jesus is in your life, you become willing to suffer for the sake of Christ in order to reach people that you care about.

Read the history of missions and all of a sudden, you are confronted with people who lost their entire family. Who went through (if you'll forgive me for saying it that way) two or three wives in order to be in a mission field. You hear the story of Helen Rosavere (??) who went to, what was known then as the Belgian Congo, who when it was taken over, found herself captive to the rebels, repeatedly tortured and raped, sent home to England long enough to heal, turned around and went back and established a mission hospital and converted the very people that were responsible for her torture.

You read the story through Gates of Spender and you hear the story of Elizabeth Elliott and those other missionary families to the Inca (??) Indians of Ecuador. Every husband in that group was killed and Elizabeth Elliott came home long enough to retrain and then go back to Ecuador and she reached the very man who killed her husband. In fact one of them has been touring the United States in recent months giving his testimony. What is it that makes people so care about lost people, that they're willing to suffer? And does that kind of thing still apply? Have you thought about this text recently in 2Peter. You know I don't think about this text a lot cause I confess to you, I don't think about the second coming a great deal. It's not fresh on my mind. Is it fresh on your mind? Do you get up every day wondering if today's going to be the day? I just have to admit to you that it's just not the first thought that I have. My life has been going along, you know, pretty much the same for the last several years. I don't get up thinking today could be it. I know people who do. I'm not one of them.

2Peter, Chapter 3 has this interesting comment in it. Down here in Verse 3. He says, First of all you must understand, that in the last days scoffers will come scoffing, following their own evil desires. They are going to say, "Where is this coming that he promised? Forever since our fathers died, everything goes on since the beginning of creation."

Boy, if they can say that - in the late sixties/early seventies A.D. - don't you suppose we'd be saying the same thing here in the 21st century. I mean, if he's gonna come, don't ya think he'd be coming here pretty soon?

Come down just a few verses later to Verse 8. Do not forget this one thing, friends, with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not slow keeping his promise as some understand slowness, he's patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Why has the Lord not returned yet? Because there are still people who don't know Jesus, that's why. And he's patient enough to give them one more chance.

Two weeks ago, my daughter's first college roommate went out to visit her in New Jersey. They spent that week, or so, together. Laurie is from southern Illinois. She won't be from southern - well, I guess she'll always be from southern Illinois. She won't be in southern Illinois much longer, she's going to Afghanistan. Her mother's a little, well I don't know, hesitant (would be a good word I suppose) reticent, frightened might be another word. Laurie's going because the door's open and there are people there who need to know Jesus. And I'm just guessing - I don't know this - I'm no prophet, but I'm guessing that it won't be very long until Team Expansion or some other mission agency, will be sending missionaries to Iraq because the door will be open for the first time. And, why will people go? Because the Lord is patient and he doesn't want anybody to not have an opportunity. So Christian people, disciples like you and me . . . . . suffer for the sake of the gospel. Suffer for the sake of lost people, if that's what it takes and so we stay with it as long as we possibly can before we get out.

Now there's a transition that occurs in this text. It seems to me that the first half of this text is clearly the destruction of Jerusalem and there are a lot of reasons for thinking that. At Verse 24, however, there is a very clear shift to the second coming of Jesus, the return of Christ. "In those days, following that distress, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time, men will see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels, and gather his elect from the four winds from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens."

"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree; as soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 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 words will never pass away."

Now, that's the interesting thing, Verses 28 through 30 appear to have slipped back to the destruction of Jerusalem. It's an intriguing sort of thing. Maybe it has dual application, I'm not sure. Maybe generation means something other than that particular generation. Maybe he simply means the Christian era will not be over. But most of that is certainly in reference to the second coming of Jesus and it says, I think, so clearly, that disciples are ready to celebrate when the Lord returns cause we look for his coming. We want him to return. We live in the anticipation of his returning. By the way, this text makes it pretty clear - there won't be anything hidden about it. No offense to those of you who are in love with the La Hayes(??) Series. I just really think they're wrong. You know the trumpet sound and the voice of the angel - when he returns, everybody's going to know it. It's not going to be hidden. He's not hiding anything. He's going to come in his full glory and everything and everybody is going to stop in his tracks and their going to know he's here.

And once he's here, it's a little too late to do anything about it. All the prep time will have been over. That's why these chapters are here, so you'll prepare now for what's to come. I don't know when it will happen. I don't even want to know. What I do know, it's going to happen.

See. The gospel of Mark has already prepared us for that. It's asked this question. What has to happen before you return? Well, Elijah has to come before Jesus returns - that's already been done. What has to happen? Well, the Son has to suffer before he can return. Well, that's been done. The temple has to be destroyed. Well, that's been accomplished. The church has to face persecution. Yep, that ones out of the way too! The gospel has to be preached to the world. Yep, that ones all accomplished too! Which means, he could come any time he wants, cause everything is ready. He could come today. He could come tomorrow. What we do know is, HE COULD COME! And we live in the anticipation of that and we begin the process of learning how to celebrate that already. I assume, at least, you want to celebrate his coming, that it doesn't trouble you that he's coming. But if you read the opening parts of Revelations, some folks aren't really looking forward to it - in fact, when you read the book of Revelation some people will hear that trumpet, some people will hear the voice, they'll look up and see who's coming and here's what they are going to say; fall on us - oh, by the way, they'll be talking to the mountains, not to him, because they think they're gonna be able to hide. I suspect that if you're thinking that you don't want him to come, for any other reason that you have somebody you love that needs yet to become a Christian, you probably ought to think about listening to what he says; BE READY! Cause your heart ought to be at peace at the thought of that celebration.

See, unlike watching for the fall of Jerusalem, in which the warning is, when you see it start to happen, run for your life - when you see this one start to happen - just gladly fall to your knees and raise your hands because he's here. And that's what you've been looking forward to all your Christian life. Because at that point, the suffering is over and so we start now to celebrate which is why I am such an advocate of celebrative worship, so that we get in the habit of doing what we're going to spend eternity doing. You know, I'm not very good at stuff the first time I try it. I need a little training. Training I can get down here to get me ready for up there is welcome. So when I celebrate here, I realize that all I'm doing is getting ready to do what I'm gonna have the privilege of doing for all of eternity - celebrating the presence of Jesus - living in the shadow of God himself - knowing the real presence. Well, there's an awful lot of stuff we don't know. We don't know when he's coming. We don't even know how he's coming. But there is enough that we do know. We know that we need to know him and we know that we need to listen to this text and be ready.

Now, it's a little unusual for us to offer any kind of an invitation in the middle of the week. I mean, after all, nobody can respond to Jesus except on Sunday morning. So, we'll pray that, okay, you know that I'm kidding. We're going to sing. Now we're not going to technically offer an invitation but you know, whether you know who he is and you know whether you're ready for his coming and if you want to do something about it, we'd let you do something really silly, like disrupt the service and come up here. It would only embarrass you. You wouldn't embarrass God and wouldn't trouble anybody in this room and I'd rather be embarrassed tonight than should he return tomorrow and wished I had. So if you don't know who Jesus is, and you want to know, let us introduce him to you. He's the one who said, I'm coming back! I'm coming back for you. I'll wait, I'll wait just long enough to give you a chance.

We'll just remain seated. I'm just gonna sit up here. If you want to just come sit beside me and talk, then, please feel free to come. After we've sung these songs, I'm going to come back and lead us in a communion time and then we'll share together in the Lord's supper.

It's amazing to me what difference a little perspective makes. I doubt if on Thursday you would have thought it was a wonderful cross. Three days later, that ugly, blood stained, horrid piece of execution equipment suddenly became a wonderful cross. It was a marvelous thing that Jesus did for you and me in giving his life. Here's what he said just after he had shared this 13th chapter. Mark says, that the Passover and the feast of unleaven bread were only two days away. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus. Not during the feast, they said, the people may riot. He's sitting here at this house of the leper and there's this woman who anoints him, whom we'll talk about tomorrow night, and prepares him for burial; and as she prepares him for what's to come, he now prepares them and us for what we can expect. On that first day of the feast of unleaven bread, it was customary to sacrifice a Passover lamb. Jesus disciples asked him, where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover and so he sent the two of his disciples, go into the city. A man carrying a jar of water will meet you, follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, "The Teacher asks, where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover with my disciples? He'll show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations there. Disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus told them and they prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus arrived with the twelve and while they were reclining at the table said, "Somebody is going to betray me, one who is here eating with me." They were sad, they wanted to know, "Is it I?" "It's one of the twelve he said, one who dips his bread into the bowl. The Son of man will go, just as it is written about him but woe to that man who betrays the Son. It would have been better if he had not been born. While they were eating, Jesus took bread and he gave thanks and he broke it. He gave it to his disciples and said, "Take it, this is my body," and then he took the cup and he gave thanks and he offered it to them and they all drank from it. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."

At that meal, he held up bread, he held up a cup and he says, your going to do this and it's going to be me and your going to think of me and your going to remember me and your going to remember what I've done for you on this night. Twenty years later, the apostle Paul gave that an interesting turn. He quotes this text and he says, we're going to do this in remembrance of him but we're going to do it in a way that proclaims his death until he comes.

This table we have set around this room tonight in various places for you to participate in, is both a backward and a forward look. It certainly does look back 2000 years to that event that marks this season, that marks the opportunity for our transformation. It reminds us of what God has done on our behalf. But it is always a proclamation of his death until he comes and every time we gather at this table we're reminded - I am going to return - I am coming for you - and I am reminded that I am to be ready for that return.