This is our last sermon in the Gospel of Mark and we’re going to end with a bang, covering the entirety of chapter 13. Let’s begin by reading it together:
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
And as he 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?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then 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 arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 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—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13 ESV)
Some of you are very excited by that chapter because you love apocalyptic theology, end times information, and talking about what will happen when Christ comes. Others of you might see no value in talking about last things, because it doesn’t affect your daily life. You’re tired of the endless talking and controversy and can’t stand it when preachers try to sound like they have any idea what they’re talking about when it comes to Judgement Day and the Coming of Jesus Christ. Others of you were just confused by all of the strange language and have no idea what Jesus was talking about and dread the idea of a sermon that even tries to explain it – and you’re not alone because I feel that way too!
In truth, my intention today is not to try to explain the end times to you. Books, blogs, movies, television and radio shows have been dedicated to trying to figure out the end of the world – and I don’t intend to try to summarize all of it in one sermon. What I want to do today is address a few important things about how we talk about Apocalyptic (meaning “prophecies about the end of the world”) things.
Predictions & Timing
Let’s start with the first and most obvious question that people seem to want to know and have invested gallons of ink into: When is the end of the world?
Our modern times are inundated with supposed prophets who, through various weird and wonderful means, pull dates out of the air and get people stirred up about the end.
You probably remember Harold Camping who recently predicted that Jesus would come back on May 21, 2011. A bunch of people thought he was right, got really excited, took to the streets, and then – he wasn’t right. When the May 21st date didn’t happen, he said that it was actually a spiritual judgement and that the physical rapture would happen on October 21st. It didn’t. He was also wrong the previous time either when he predicted that Judgement Day would be on September 6, 1994.
If you’re curious about this stuff, there is a wiki-page keeping track of all the predictions that people have been making – and there are six more on the list to come. One of them that has some people riled up about today is the “Four Blood Moons” theory put out by Mark Blitz and John Hagee. His date is September 28, 2015, so we have that to look forward to in the Fall.
I don’t want to get into the details of why these guys are wrong, because they’re not worth my breath. I really wish that Christians would read their Bibles more so they can debunk these guys, but I sympathize that they really want Jesus to come back.
Remember, that at the beginning of Jesus’ talk about the end it says, “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?’ And Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.’” (Mark 13:3-6) and then later in vs 21, “And then 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 arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” (Mark 13:21-23)
No matter how much fascination there is with details and dates, Jesus Himself declared that He didn’t know when it was going to happen, and that a lot of people will come and lie about it. Everyone who has said they have figured it out has so far, been wrong. Add to that that the kind of language we find in scripture regarding the last days of earth is almost always figurative, illustrative, word-picture-type language that is very difficult to interpret, even for the best scholars.
Some of these people making predictions about the end are false prophets, sent by Satan to distract the church from their mission and get people arguing, majoring on the minors, instead of loving God and people. They’re going to sound really good, and even look very spiritual, but their whole task is to lead people astray. But not all of them. There have actually been many, many people throughout history that have been absolutely certain about the date that all the end-times prophecies of scripture would come start and Jesus would come back.
It goes right back to the days when Paul was writing. In 2 Thessalonians 3 Paul has to command the church to tell some of their people to get back to work because they had quit their jobs thinking that Jesus was coming back soon. When it didn’t happen, they came to the church asking for support. Paul tells the church not to help them, but to command them to go find a job.
A couple generations after the Apostle John finished the biblical Book of Revelation, a man named Irenaeus – who was a disciple of Polycarp, who knew the Apostle John personally – made a prediction that the world would last for 6000 years from the time of Noah.
Saint Augustine of Hippo, a great 4th century theologian and philosopher, famous for his works City of God and Confessions, one of the most influential figures in early Christianity, still read and studied by serious theologians today, was convinced that Jesus would return by 650AD – for him, 250 years in the future.
After the Protestant Reformation, when the Bible was translated into common language and the Gutenburg press made it available to everyone, predictions starting coming out everywhere. And as the Reformers watched corruption of the Catholic church and the rise of the Islamic empire over Europe, they started to feel that the end was near.
Martin Luther, on Feburary 16th, 1546 wrote:
“I hope the last Day of Judgment is not far, I persuade myself verily it will not be absent full three hundred years longer…. God neither will nor can suffer this wicked world much longer, but must strike in with the dreadful, and punish the contemning [to treat with contempt] of His word….” (Luther’s Divine Discourses, Captain Henry Bell, Pg 7-8)
And so it continued for the last few hundred years. Good preachers and false teachers falling into the trap of trying to predict the second coming of Jesus. Some out of evil motives, others out of a loss of hope and a desire for the end to come. A lot of Christians feel the way Luther did as we watch more corruption in the church, the rise of more evil in our culture, and see pagan religions grow in popularity and number – and yet, God has continued to be patient with this world, holding back His hand of judgement year after year.
It is Not for You To Know
When it comes to people predicting the dates and circumstances of the coming of Jesus I often turn to Acts 1:6-8, the last words of Jesus before He Ascended. They knew Jesus was about to leave and they had a final question. It says,
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” In other words, “When are we done? How long until you finish the job once and for all? When are you going to destroy all the enemies and renew this land?” It’s the same question all believers ask themselves eventually. But Jesus answered them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
He tells them not to worry, that God the Father has it under control and knows what He’s doing, and that they don’t need to know “times or seasons”. What do they need to know? They need to know that they have a job to do. They will be given the power of the Holy Spirit to go into the whole world to share the Gospel.
It’s as though Jesus says, “Don’t get stuck on days, dates and details about my second coming. You have bigger fish to fry. Get out there and be My people, be My Church, raise up more disciples, spread my love and message, and let God worry about the end times.”
Two Important Things
Why then, did God send prophets to tell us about what will happen in the end? If it’s none of our business, then why tell us anything? It’s not because He wanted us to spend our hours trying to decipher the minutia of every detail, but to give us two important reminders.
First, that God is in charge of everything, right from the beginning, and already knows what’s going to happen. We look at how the brightest theologians that Israel had to offer read the Old Testament prophecies and we realize that most of them got it wrong. They didn’t figure out who Jesus was, what His mission was, how He would conquer their enemies, or that He would die. It was all there, but they didn’t understand it clearly until it was done. Sure, they had some figured out – like the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, of the tribe of Judah, spend time in Egypt… but they didn’t have the full picture. Not even close.
It’s the same today. We have fuzzy details about the future, and some interesting predictions, but we don’t exactly know how it’s going to happen. The biggest lesson of these prophecies is that God is trustworthy and has everything under control. That no matter what we see around us, no matter how troubling, there aren’t any surprises to God.
In fact, the Book of Revelation, the greatest source of Apocalyptic prophecies in the New Testament wasn’t primarily written to tell us about the end times. It as written to encourage Christians to resist the temptation to give up their faith in the face of great hostility and persecution. It was to tell them that persecution was coming, that trial was coming, and that it was going to get worse before it got better – and that they needed to remember that God was in control and they needed to remain faithful to Jesus as their only Saviour.
If you’ve read Revelation then you know that there is a LOT of worship music in it! It’s a book mean to point us to the greatness, the power, the authority of God, the wonder of His presence, and the amazing life that awaits all those who persevere in their faith until the end. Nothing compares to Him!
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!… “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev 4:8,11)
Some people wanted to compromise and give into Emperor Worship and allow pagan practices into the church because it would be easier – and John, in the book of Revelation says, “NO! Sand fast, don’t be corrupted! Perilous days lie ahead and you need to remain faithful to the only one who can get you through them! It’s not worth compromising! Jesus is the only one worth following! He’s the only one who can save, the only one who can break open what God has sealed and bring us through to the end.
“Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:1-5)
We may not know exactly what’s going on there, but we do know one thing: Jesus is the only one, the only way, that has the right and the power to do what is necessary to save us.
The second reminder that we are supposed to get from this kind of writing in scripture is that we need to be ready. Jesus describes our current troubles as “birth-pangs” (13:8)– the pain before the big event. He says in verse 28 that what we are seeing is the branch getting ready to produce fruit. He is coming back, and there will be signs of His coming, but those signs aren’t meant to cause you fear or to distract you – they are meant to tell you to get ready. Over and over, along with all of the talk about what will happen, Jesus gives us warnings to be ready.
- Vs 5: “See that no one leads you astray.”
- Vs 9: “Be on your guard.”
- Vs 11: “Do not be anxious.”
- Vs 23: Be on your guard. I have told you all things beforehand.”
- Vs 33 “Be on guard, keep awake.”
- Vs 35: “Stay awake.”
- Vs 37: “Stay awake.”
Why does he say that over and over? Because we are all in danger of falling asleep. He will take a long time coming, and it will be easy to forget that He’s ever coming back, and therefore we will go to sleep. His final parable was a story about a man who goes on a journey, leaving his servants in charge. That’s Jesus. He ascended to heaven and left us to tend to His work. A diligent servant realizes his master might be home anytime and keeps the place clean, sets the table each night, prepares His food, and has the house ready for him. A poor servant does that for a time, but after too long starts to think the master will never come back – so they stop cleaning as much, they start to sleep in the masters bed, they treat it as their own, pretending to be the master of the house, and they sleep later and later into the day, they get lazy, and they sleep all the time instead of doing they work they are intended to do.
Until the master comes home. Then judgement has come.
That’s the second reminder: Stay awake. Continue to be ready. Keep proclaiming the Gospel. Keep enduring the great trials. Keep patiently waiting for the Master to come back. A lot of the New Testament is written to churches who are suffering or about to endure suffering. It’s part of the Christian life, and should not be a surprise. That’s why the book is there for us. To give us hope, wisdom, encouragement, correction, training and a reminder of all that has been done for us.
The Story of “It Is Well With My Soul”
In a moment we are going to sing the song, “It is Well with my Soul” which is a perfect ending for today’s service. Some people get sucked in by the false prophets, or start to obsess about the end times, because they lose hope. They see and experience bad news, and lose hope that this world has a purpose, and begin to wonder if their faith is worth all the suffering they are enduring. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe there’s an easier path. Maybe God’s not in control anymore. Maybe Jesus has forgotten them. Maybe something’s gone wrong.
Let me close with the story of this important Hymn. I’m not sure where you are at this morning, but I know that there is a message for you here. The first verse says this:
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
This hymn was written by a man named Horatio Spafford in the year 1873. As a young man he met and married a young woman whom he loved, had 5 wonderful children, became a successful lawyer, and had invested heavily in Chicago’s real estate market. It’s easy to believe that a song called “It is well” would be penned by a man like this… happy and successful, rich and well known… but this song wasn’t written during that time in his life. And that’s what makes the message of this song so powerful.
After a few good years of success and happiness, Horatio’s life began to fall apart. First, his 4 year old son died of scarlet fever. Then a year later, the great Chicago Fire destroyed all of his real estate, ruining him financially. He was a believer in Jesus and, since he had nothing tying him to Chicago anymore, he decided to bring this family to Europe to help his friend Dwight L Moody with his missionary work. Unfortunately, he had to send his family on ahead while he stayed back to deal with some paperwork. While crossing the Atlantic, their ship collided with another vessel and all four of Spafford’s daughters fell overboard and were lost at sea. Only his wife Anna survived, telegraphing a letter back to Heratio about what had happened.
With a heavy heart Spafford boarded another ship to meet his wife across the ocean. During the voyage the Captain came to him and told him he knew what had happened to his family and that the ship was now passing over the spot where his daughters had passed away. He walked to deck of the ship, looking overboard at the water, and began to weep. For him, after so much tragedy, he wondered how he could ever go on. He watched the billows of water roll against the sides of the ship, and pictured his young daughters in his mind’s eye.
Everything was not “well with his soul”… and he began to pray. He turned to God for comfort and for help… and the Holy Spirit began to speak to him. In those moments Horatio Spafford was taught that God keeps His promises and He really does draw close to those who are broken hearted. He will not leave you, nor forsake you. He really is in control, even during the storms. He will see us all through to the end.
In response to God’s touch, the heart-broken, but Spiritually sustained, man wrote a poem, which later became a beloved hymn of the church, helping everyone who sings it remember the eternal hope that all believers have, no matter what pain and heartache may befall them on earth. He wrote:
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control,That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”
No matter what happens in life, those who are in a relationship with Jesus are able to sing along with Mr. Spafford saying, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
Many people wonder where they I get real hope and comfort when they are “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”? How can I find a way for it to be “well with my soul”… “when sorrows like sea billows roll”? It almost sounds foolish to think that it can ever be “well” in a world where there are so many things going wrong.
But if our hope is in the things of the world, then it can never be well. A Christians hope isn’t in the world, or the things of the world, it is in the one who created the world, who sustains the world, who saved the world. The only way we can have peace in the middle of problems, suffering, fear and even death is because of Jesus Christ.
The most famous verse in the Bible tells the story of how Christians can say “it is well”. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God loves you and me so much that he was willing to send His Son to save us. Jesus died so that anyone who puts their faith in Him would live forever with Him, have access to amazing grace and divine peace, and know true joy. He gives us that as we live with Him today, and will give it to us ultimately when He finishes His work and brings us all to Him in the final days. Jesus is our hope and our strength.
The last verse of “It is well” closes the song in a prayer that talks to God about that day. Today there is grief. Today there is loss and sickness and darkness, enemies and pain. But one day, for those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Saviour, all of that will be done with!
Horatio Spafford said it this way:
“And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.”
So my conclusion today is to remind you of the message of all of scripture: that it’s all about Jesus. He is our source of strength and hope, our anchor in the storm, the motivation of our life, our Saviour and our Lord. He is the reason we are here, and the greatest pursuit of our life. He loves each of us, individually, with a great passion – so much so that He was willing to die on the cross for our sins.
No matter what occurs in our life, Jesus will see us through if we are willing to submit ourselves to Him. So listen to Him, read His word, talk to Him, study His life, obey His commands, follow His word, join His church, discover His purpose for your life and live it out, and trust that He will keep you, always.