Sunday, October 28, 2018

Night Vision! - Mark 13:14-23

Night Vision!
Mark 13:14-23
Introduction:  Our military has been able to say for quite some time, “We own the night.” Against many of the less technologically advanced adversaries our military has had to engage, our “night vision” capabilities have allowed our forces to conduct operations in the darkness with great effect, and with a lot less risk to our troops. I thought of that when I read this week Daniel 7:13,14…
“…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…”
Night visions! Of a coming King and a coming kingdom. Hope in the darkness. We see quite often the Bible using the language of spiritual warfare. Though we engage an enemy that we cannot see, and though we live in the present without knowing the details of what we will face even tomorrow, we are not in the dark about the future. God has revealed, in His word, how His plan for history, and His plan for us, is going to unfold. And though, to quote Yogi Berra once again, “It is a difficult thing to prophecy, especially about the future!”, we have been given “night vision” technology that is infallible: the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
       Like an Old Testament prophet Jesus answered the disciples with reference to both the near future and the end of the age… The disciples were thinking, no doubt, that those things would correlate closely with the time of the Lord’s return (Mt 24:2). But Jesus gave them just the “light” they needed for the moment, while also addressing the needs of the church at the end of that generation, around AD 70… and also speaking to believers through the ages and until He comes.
Context: We introduced chapter 13 with a message, “How Long, O Lord?” The Maine* Idea was, “Stay faithful! Life will get hard, but Jesus is coming!” Last week we focused on 13:3-13 we saw that, “In the World You Will Have Tribulation!” and highlighted the idea that the assurance of God’s presence and the certainty of victory will enable believers to endure both the trials of life and the attacks of the enemy. Today in our message entitled “Night Vision (for the chosen)!” we see…
The Maine* Idea: Believers can be assured that God is in control and that His Word will guide us through difficult and deceptive times.
 I. The “Resistance” of the enemy will be made manifest (14a,b). While we have an enemy who goes about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, he usually carries out his task with subtlety and cunning, well camouflaged, disguised even as an angel of light. We are in a spiritual battle that is usually subtle, but Jesus here is warning that the day will come when it will become overt…
But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then…
     We set the context above because it is essential to understanding the contrast in this paragraph with what came before. We live in a fallen world, that means that all Creation, including humanity, is under the curse of God. Moreover, the believing remnant of humanity is in the midst of a spiritual battle. Wars, famines and pestilences, earthquakes and natural disasters are signs of the state of the world and of our desperate spiritual need. But they are not signs that the climax of history is necessarily imminent and the return of Christ is at hand. That brings us to our passage for today. It begins with a contrast…
       BUT, there is a sign that should garner our careful attention. The first word of v.14, “But…” Jesus is saying that not those things that are common to life in a fallen world, but this is what tells you that the destruction of the Temple is at hand, or possibly that He is at the door, “…when you see the abomination of desolation standing…” To what was Jesus referring? What would the disciples, and the first readers of the gospel have understood by this phrase?  The word “abomination” is used frequently in the Scriptures to refer to gross idolatry (see Isa 44:19). With the fuller phrase “abomination of desolation,” even a casual reader of the Scriptures, given the apocalyptic context, would recognize an allusion to the prophet Daniel (see Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Let’s read…
Daniel 9:27 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."
Daniel 11:31 Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.”
Daniel 12:11-13 And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.  12 Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days.  13 But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”
I am not prepared to go with any confidence into the details of what Daniel is saying, but some things are plain enough: abomination, detestable, offensive idolatry, sacrilege in the context of the Temple and worship, resulting in total desolation and destruction. Since God promised peace and security to faithful Israel, desolation could only come from their unfaithfulness (see Deut 28).
      How are we to understand the phrase, “Let the reader understand…”?  Since when Jesus spoke this speech the gospels were not written, if Jesus said it, it must have referred to the prophet Daniel and his reference to the “Abomination of desolation.” The NIV editors take that view by putting the phrase in the Markan context in red-letters, along with the rest of the discourse. It is an editorial judgment of course, since the Greek manuscripts we have, have no red letters and no punctuation! The NASB editors, put the phrase in parentheses, and in black letters, indicating that the editors thought it was a comment (or an exhortation) inserted by the writer of the Gospel. [I would find that more likely, except that Matthew in his gospel puts it exactly the same (Mt 24:15)!] If Bible scholars disagree about it, and they are a lot smarter than me, I’ll have to say with great confidence: I am not sure! It doesn’t change a lot after all since the same God who inspired Daniel, was also incarnate in Christ, and also inspired Mark to write his gospel! We should be reading Daniel and Mark, paying attention to the written Word, asking what did each writer intend, and what could his readers have understood (but see Daniel 12:7-9)?  Since it seems certain that Jesus was referring in the relative near-term to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, and also to the end of the age and His second coming, I think we should expect multiple referents to this prophecy. Let’s see if history bears that out and see if it gives us some clues as to what the ultimate end-time fulfillment might look like.
       If we think of the context of Daniel, and subsequent Jewish History, virtually all Jewish interpreters, and most Christian interpreters of Daniel, agree that we should see a preliminary fulfillment of the “abomination of desolation” in the desecration of the Temple by the Seleucid general Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC. He entered the Temple and erected a statue of the Greek God, Zeus. He then sacrificed a pig on the altar. That was certainly an offensive act of overt idolatry, so offensive in fact, that that act inspired Judas Maccabee and the Jewish revolt.
      Remember our context in Mark. Jesus had just predicted the destruction of the Temple, not one stone being left on another. Later in the chapter he’ll tie that prophecy to “this generation” [genea]. Roughly 37 years after Jesus spoke these words, the Roman armies would surround the city of Jerusalem, laying siege for several months. When they finally breached the walls, the city was razed and the Temple was desecrated. The Roman Banners, with the image of Caesar, were brought into the Temple and bowed down to. An abomination, gross idolatry, in what should have been the House of God. By the way, in literal fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, a fire started (or was started) that burnt the Temple. In the search for gold that apparently melted in the heat of the fire, the Temple was leveled, not one stone left upon another, as the gold from the Temple was looted.
       But is there a still future abomination of desolation? Both John in his letters, and Paul, especially in 2 Thessalonians 2, talk about an evil, end-time figure. John calls him antichrist.  Paul refers to him as the “man of sin.” He warns…
“…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…” (2 Thess 2:1-4).
Idolatry, indeed, blasphemy, in the temple of God! Is this the end-time event, preliminary to the “day of the Lord,” that is the ultimate “abomination of desolation” to which Jesus is referring?  And does this not imply that the antichrist will be revealed while the church is still there to see it? We’ll talk more about that Wednesday, and in weeks to come!  Believers can be assured that God is in control and that His Word will guide us through difficult and deceptive times.
II. A Time of terrible tribulation lay ahead: Time to go? Get out! Now! (14c-20).
then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out,  16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.  17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!  18 Pray that it may not happen in winter.  19 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.  20 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. 
       In the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70  The tribulation leading up to that event was horrendous, we have some details from that time recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus… In chapter 3 of The Jewish Wars, he describes the conditions leading up to the breach of the walls and the destruction of the city: famine, thirst, horrible desperation. He details stories like one that seems almost too shocking to be believed, of a woman killing, roasting, and eating her own son. That is not the kind of story a Jewish historian would likely make up! It certainly shows that it was a time of horrible suffering.
       The abomination of desolation may have been the Romans circling the city, (note the parallel account in Luke 21:20-21) which eventually led to their entering and marching into the Temple with their banners bearing the image of Caesar. Some say the tribulation of that day, in terms of the per capita destruction and suffering, was greater than ever was or would be. It is estimated that 1.1 million Jews died either in conflict, through the famine, or by crucifixion.  Yet, for the most part, the Christian Jews survived since they heeded Jesus’ warning to get away quickly. Alistair Begg compared the instructions Jesus gives in these verses, to the instructions a flight crew gives as a plane is preparing to depart. "In the event of an emergency don't try to collect your things, get immediately to the nearest exit and get out of the aircraft!" As the armies approached the city they fled to the mountains. Normally, when under attack, you would take refuge in a fortified city, that is why they were there after all! That is what most Jews did. And the rest is history.
       I can’t read Mark 13 and not also see Jesus pointing to a yet more distant future as well, an even greater tribulation, and also to the promise of His return. In the time of Great Tribulation at the end of the age.
       Those days cut short… for the sake of the elect who He chose… To whom is Jesus (and Mark) referring? Who are the “elect”? Consistently, it is those who have been chosen by God to be His peculiar people. Israel chosen from among the peoples of the earth, the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… And since the birth of the church, Jews and gentiles, people from every race and nation who by grace through faith are joined to the Body of Christ. There is much we don’t know about the end-time tribulation. The Book of Revelation records the visions of John, so despite our efforts scholars disagree on many details. But this we know: if our trust is in Christ we are one of His chosen. And believers can be assured that God is in control and that His Word will guide us through difficult and deceptive times.
III. Believers are forewarned: Be alert for deceivers (21-23).
21 And then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it.  22 False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.  23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
       The return of Christ will be public and unquestionable, believers will know when He comes! We know that “…as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be…” (Mt 24:27). It will be visible and personal as the men in white told the disciples on the Mount of Olives at the ascension, “…This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven…” (Acts 1:11). As Daniel prophesied it will be glorious and powerful: “…behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom…” (Daniel 7:13-14). Don’t be deceived by impostors!
       Do not be deceived by messianic pretenders or by false prophets, there will be many!  Even signs and wonders will be performed, leading many astray. Remember the magicians of Pharaoh who mimicked some the signs Moses did? This will seemingly be far more impressive and deceptive. The goal of the enemy is to deceive as many as possible. We can be easily impressed. Even by eloquent speech and motivational rhetoric, or by what seem to be “signs” of successful ministry, like large churches and enthusiastic audiences. But does the teaching of that “prophet” harmonize with the clear teaching of Scripture? Moses said this about the prophets who may impress us in Deuteronomy 13:1-5,
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,  2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,'  3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  4 You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.  5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD...
Orthodox teaching, faithfulness to the truth, not signs or wonders, are the genuine evidences of sound teaching (cf. Gal 1:6-9)! The key encouragement I find in this verse is the phrase “if possible.” Ultimately, God will preserve and protect His own. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand…” (John 10:27,28).
      Why did Jesus give this warning to Peter, James, John, and Andrew? Why did God inspire Mark to include this discourse in his gospel? Why is it repeated, at least in part, in Matthew and Luke as well? To give vision to the elect, night vision, in the present and coming darkness.  
What is God saying to me in this passage? Believers can be assured that God is in control and that His Word will guide us through difficult and deceptive times.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? In the last days perilous times will come! Some people think they have every detail figured out. Good for them! We want to search the Scriptures carefully, seeking to understand the things God has said in His Word, being as precise as we can be in terms of what God has revealed. Godly people disagree on some pretty important details. But, the plain things are the main things. We know this beyond question: because of human rebellion the world is under the curse. And we also have an enemy who is on the attack. But we know that greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world! Jesus is coming back, and we know that Jesus wins, and that He has a future planned for those who are His, those who the Bible calls “the elect,” that is all who put their trust in Him. For we who believe it is written, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for those who love Him!” (I Cor 2:9).  Think of that! AMEN.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

In the World You WILL Have Tribulation! - Mark 13:1-13

In the World You WILL Have Tribulation!
Mark 13:1-13
Introduction:  Earlier in this Gospel, we saw that Jesus had told his hearers to count the cost of following Him (8:31-35). There was no cover up, no hiding of the hardship that would come with discipleship. He said “If anyone would be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Here, in the Olivet discourse, He once again warns His disciples that perilous times were coming, that in the world they would have tribulation (cf. Jn 16:33).  The New Testament tells us that things will become difficult in the “last days.” In the last letter that the Apostle Paul wrote, before his execution while a prisoner in Rome, he said,
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,  4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power...  (2 Tim 3:2-5).
A little further down in that chapter he warns,
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,  13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived… (2 Tim 3:12-13).
Paul understood that there was a cost to discipleship, that we are in a spiritual battle and that the enemy will work hard to discourage us and, if possible, to cause us to stumble. One of the practical applications of prophecy, it seems to me, is to see the fulfillment of God’s promises and to be assured that He is the Lord of History. When we turn to the New Testament, the early church experienced the beginning of the birth pangs described in this chapter. The disciples are arrested in Acts 4, arrested again and beaten in Acts 5. Stephen is stoned by a mob in Acts 7. Saul (Paul) comes to faith, and then, his life under threat, has to flee in a basket over the wall of Damascus. In chapter 12 James is put to death by the sword of Herod, and Peter is arrested… Come to Jesus and you will have a peaceful life! On the contrary, “…all who seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
The Maine* Idea:  The assurance of God’s presence and the certainty of victory will enable believers to endure both the trials of life and the attacks of the enemy.
Context: Jesus had prophesied the destruction of the Temple (13:1,2).
As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"  2 "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." 
The disciples made an observation about the buildings in the Temple complex as they were leaving, and Jesus made what had to be a shocking prophecy… every stone would be thrown down—complete devastation! It seems the disciples were so stunned (or bewildered!) by that idea that they walked in silence from the Temple, out the gates of the city, through the Kidron Valley and up the hill to the Mount of Olives. It was there that the disciples came to the Lord with some questions, asking for clarification…
I. Be Discerning: Do not be led astray (3-8).
      The disciples had questions (3-4). They were confused about what comes next.
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately,  4 "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?" 
       Jesus knew the hearts of His disciples, and we know from His answer, as well as from the parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke, that they were asking Him not only about the destruction of the Temple, but also about the end of the age and the coming of the Kingdom. In their thinking those things went together, they didn’t know that there would be an interval of many centuries between the Temple being leveled and the Millennial Kingdom of the Messiah, of which the prophets spoke, being established.  For example, they knew the prophecy of Isaiah 2:2-4,   
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,  3 and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.  
     This was God’s city, and the Temple was God’s House. Were they to understand that one Temple would literally be torn down and another built?  If Jerusalem and the Temple were to be the center of the Kingdom, and of the world, how could it be destroyed? Jesus warns them to be on guard…
       Deceivers will come, leading many astray (5-6).  First of all, don’t be led astray by messianic pretenders.
5 Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you.  6 Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many.
       Satan is a liar, and the father of lies. One aspect of that is that he counterfeits what God does and says. Some have directly claimed to be the messiah, others have even claimed to be Jesus incarnate. Through the centuries many have falsely claimed to be Christ. The language here is even stronger, “Many will come in my name and say, ‘I AM…’ and will deceive many…” That is the language that Jesus used, one of the ways he claimed and affirmed His deity. Imitators, many of them, would come. And indeed they have! From the first century to the present day, cult leaders have made such false claims and have led astray people. Jim Jones, David Koresh, and the Branch Davidians, people like them leading people down a path to destruction. Jesus said, “Watch out! Do not be deceived!” He also said…
      Don’t be alarmed by the “non-signs” that come with life in a fallen world (7-8).
7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. 
       How will we know that the end is near? Is Jesus saying that wars and earthquakes and famines are signs of the end? I think His point is quite the opposite: these kinds of things characterize life in a fallen world. They were happening in the early first century, they would be happening in an intense way in the siege of Jerusalem in the late 60s until it’s destruction in AD 70, and they will be happening until the Lord returns.  Wars, rumors of wars, such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Natural disasters as well, earthquakes, famines, (the beloved physician, in Luke 21:11, adds “pestilences”), are a part of life in this fallen world. They can remind us that the end will come, but of that day and hour no one knows. Remember the famous quote from Cyprian of Carthage,
This is a cheerful world as I see it from my garden under the shadows of my vines. But if I were to ascend some high mountain and look out over the wide lands, you know very well what I should see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the sea, armies fighting, cities burning; in the amphitheaters men murdered to please applauding crowds; selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs.  It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret.  They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not.  They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world.  These people, Donatus, are the Christians--and I am one of them. 
It seems that Cyprian found hope in Christ, despite the prevalence of apparently flourishing evil in the world. Evil and suffering, the bad news that we hear domestically and around the world every day, all of it reminds us of human depravity and how desperately the world needs the Gospel. That is why Jesus came, and that is why He left us in the world. To be His witnesses. That is the “Maine* Idea” in our context in Mark: The assurance of God’s presence and the certainty of victory will enable believers to endure both the trials of life and the attacks of the enemy as we carry out the mission that has been entrusted to us. So, be discerning, don’t be led astray, and…
II. Be on Guard: You will suffer attacks for your faith (9-10).
9 "You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 
       You will experience religious persecutions (9a). We certainly see this in the unfolding story of the early church in the Book of Acts. After being arrested and threatened by the leaders in Acts 4, we read in the next chapter,
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them,  28 saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us."  29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.  30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.  31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."  33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them… (Acts 5:27-33).
      You will experience persecution by authorities (9b). We have seen some cases, like a baker on the west coast and with businesses like Hobby Lobby that seek to reflect their faith in their business practices facing some backlashes in our country. But it many other contexts it is far worse. In Islamic regimes as in Saudi Arabia or Iraq or Pakistan, it can be life or death for someone to openly profess faith in Christ. To share your faith, even worse. It isn’t new, and it will seemingly get worse. In reading God’s story as it unfolded in the Book of Acts, the last quarter of the story, Paul is a prisoner of Roman authorities. He appeared before governors and kings. Ultimately, tradition tells us, he would be put to death by Nero. Jesus says…
      In the midst of it all, you have a mission to carry out (9c-10). Jesus told the disciples what was coming, and what they were to do. Here He said “…you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.  10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.  The word “witness” in verse 9 is the word from which we get the English word “martyr.” And that was the reality for most of these men. Sometime you should read through the early pages of Fox’s Book of Martyrs, which begins with the biblical martyrs, and then shares some of the traditions of the death of the other apostles as well as subsequent persecutions of the church. It isn’t pretty, but it is edifying to hear about their faith under fire.
       Jesus didn’t hide anything, in fact, He told the disciples in advance that suffering would come as His mission expanded to “all nations.” But as they went they could be assured they wouldn’t be alone, and ultimately, God’s purpose would be accomplished.  The assurance of God’s presence and the certainty of [ultimate] victory will enable believers to endure both the trials of life and the attacks of the enemy, staying faithful in the mission that has been entrusted to us. So be discerning, don’t be deceived… be on guard, you will be attacked, but
III. Do not be Anxious: God is with you and victory is certain (11-13).
11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.  12 "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  13 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
     Do not be anxious – the Spirit will be with you to guide you (11). This promise would be developed further in the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16) as Jesus speaks more about His departure, and the promise of sending a “Comforter,” the Parakletos, who would be with them to guide, empower, and enable them. The arrest of Jesus, His so-called trial that would follow, His torture and execution by the Romans, and His burial, would certainly throw them into confusion. In retrospect we can wonder why that was, since the final journey to Jerusalem had been replete with predictions by Jesus, explicitly saying that would happen (8:31-35; 9:30-32; 10:33-34)! But their eyes were not yet opened. Even in the Upper Room, as He was teaching and preparing them for what would soon happen, they didn’t understand. Jesus knew their struggle and said in John 16:19-20,   
19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, "Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me'?  20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
Jesus is offering perspective and hope in the midst of heartbreak and sorrow. As the psalmist said, “Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning…” (Psalm 30:5, NAS). Don’t forget, Jesus wins! Even so, it will be difficult…
      Those closest to us may turn against us (12-13a).  "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child... Remember that we have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses… Jesus knew something about personal betrayal. Earlier, we know that for a time at least “His own brothers were not believing in Him…” Soon, one who had walked with Him for three and a half years, who had seen the miracles and heard the teaching, one who’s feet Jesus would wash in the upper room along with 11 others, would betray Him. This teaching may have been Wednesday night of passion week. After a long day of teaching in the Temple they had crossed the Kidron Valley and were on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Temple Mount. It would be in the upper room, in the next day or so, that Jesus would again speak of the hatred and betrayal they would experience. He said, 
18 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  20 Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me… (John 15:18-21).
In other words, don’t take it personally, it is not about you really. It is about Jesus. Let it remind you of how desperately lost people are, and let that deepen your commitment to pray for them and to seek to point them to the Lord.
       Stand firm, Jesus wins! (13b).  Jesus said, “…but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” The world can only do so much to us. As Paul said at the end of that great resurrection chapter, I Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Perilous times will come, but the assurance of God’s presence and the certainty of victory will enable believers to endure both the trials of life and the attacks of the enemy as we carry out God’s mission in the world.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  Jesus will return. Remember why He came. Remember who He is. Remember what it means to follow Him. Don’t be anxious. Be on guard. Don’t be deceived. Stay faithful! As we saw last week, Be encouraged—Life will get hard, but Jesus is coming!   AMEN.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

How long, O Lord? - Mark 13:1-4, 32-37

How long, O Lord?
Mark 13:1-4, 32-37
Introduction: Yogi Berra probably wasn’t the first person to say, “It’s very difficult to make predictions, especially about the future!” If you ever try to check the weather forecasts you know what I mean! The story is told of a group of Sioux Native Americans living in South Dakota who asked their tribal chief if it was going to be a cold winter. He said, “I’ll get back to you.” Then he used his cell phone and called the National Weather Service. They said they were pretty sure it would be a cold winter. The chief went back to his tribe and said, “It’s going to be a cold winter, start gathering firewood.” The members of his tribe soon asked him again, so he called the Weather Service again and got the same answer. The Chief went back and said, “Keep gathering firewood for a cold winter.” After a few weeks, a member of the tribe asked him again if it was going to be a cold winter. So, for the third time, he called the National Weather Service. This time the meteorologists said, “We are now certain that this is going to be one of the coldest winters on record.” The chief said, “What makes you say that?” The meteorologist said, “The members of the Sioux tribe are gathering firewood like crazy!”
       Even with all the sophisticated computer models meteorologists have, they still miss a forecast sometimes. And the more extended the forecast, the greater the chance of error.  We read about God’s standard for prophets in Dt 18:21-22…
21 And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?'-  22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
Ok then, the National Weather Service is clearly a “non-prophet” organization! Over the next month or so we’re going to work our way through this prophetic teaching of Jesus, known as the Olivet Discourse.  Today we’ll introduce chapter 13 of Mark. Jesus was speaking in this context of future events that some of His disciples would see, as well as some more distant events that they foreshadowed leading up to His second coming.  And, unlike some weathermen, you can be certain Jesus’ forecast is accurate!  This chapter is challenging to interpret. I like the rule that Alistair Begg follows when preaching on prophecy: “The main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things.”
       The Olivet Discourse predicted both the impending destruction of the Temple and the second coming of Christ. Through the years, many false prophets have tried to predict the date of Christ’s return. In 1988, when I was a young pastor in NJ, I received a book in the mail, 88 Reasons Jesus will return in 1988. The next year, again, unsolicited, I received the sequel, On Borrowed Time: What went wrong in 1988. In that volume the author recalculated and was suggesting a date in 1989. A few years later a layman who owned a small network of radio stations that I think was called Family Radio, published a book called 1994. In that book he was predicting, with great confidence and certainty, that he had calculated the time of the Lord’s return to be October of 1994. He later modified his calculation to 2011. Before he died he conceded that his attempt to predict the date of the Lord’s return was sinful and wrong, and said that he continued to search the Bible not to predict a date, but to gain further understanding. He is not the only one who has gone off track with date setting.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses have offered at least nine predictions from 1874 to 1984, each time having to explain away their miscalculation. Jesus made it clear that it is not for us to know, in advance, the time of His return, and that is exactly the point! The church in every age is to be watchful, expectant, faithful, and engaged in the mission until He comes. After the resurrection the disciples had a question for Jesus on this subject…
...for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."  6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  8 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."  9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,  11 and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."  12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away… (Acts 1:5-12).
In other words, “when” is the wrong question. The concern, until He comes, should be “what,” that is, what is our mission until that day? The Bible does speak a lot about the return of Christ and about a future kingdom. The prophets, the apostles, the Lord himself, all look ahead with expectation and hope. That brings us to...
The Maine* Idea: Stay faithful! Life will get hard but Jesus is coming!
I. A Prophetic Word: A Near Term Prophecy and His future return.
      Jesus predicts the razing of the Temple (which occurred in AD 70). The interaction between Jesus and the leaders since the triumphal entry has been in and around the Temple. Jesus has been there, teaching the people, and His disciples, knowing full well how this story had to unfold. It was Passover week after all, and the Lamb had to be presented according to the eternal counsel of the Godhead to accomplish the redemption of the elect, all who would trust in Him alone as their hope of salvation. As they were leaving the Temple, perhaps on Wednesday afternoon, the disciples made an observation concerning the grandeur of the Temple complex. Jesus’ reply had to be shocking to them…
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!"  2 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…" (Mk 13:1-2).  
       As we work through this chapter we’ll see that Jesus in His reply to the disciples refers to the destruction of the Temple (which would occur in A.D. 70), and also to the “end of the age” and His second coming (Mt 24:3). Put the questions of the disciples in Mark side by side with what we have in the parallel account in Matthew…
Mark 13:4
Matthew 24:3
 "Tell us,
when will these things be, and
what will be the sign
when all these things are about to be accomplished?"
"Tell us,
when will these things be, and
what will be the sign
of your coming
and of the close of the age?"
       First of all, let’s be clear that the variation in the wording of the second part of the question, “…what will be the sign…”, does not indicate an error by either evangelist in reporting what Jesus and the disciples said. Neither writer is giving us an exhaustive, word-for-word transcript of the exchange! Both, under the inspiration of God, selected a portion of what was said to make the point that they are attempting to address. Matthew simply includes two more parts to the question, which also helps us understand why Jesus expands His answer from the near term, “these things,” i.e. the destruction of the Temple, and includes His parousia at the end of the age. It seems pretty clear that the disciples did not separate these things in their minds. How could the destruction of the Temple signal anything less that the “end of the age”? As they will later ask in Acts 1:6, “Is it at this time that you will restore the kingdom to Israel?
       Like the prophets of old, Jesus put near and distant events side-by-side. We see this frequently in Scripture. We use the term, “prophetic perspective” to explain how the prophets put near and distant events side-by-side, as though they were peaks of two mountains, one seen in the distance, and then another that seemingly is right behind it, disguising the great distance between them. And so, the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of His first coming (in humility) and His second coming in power and glory. There was almost no way for contemporary readers to discern how these ideas could both be true, much less could they understand that more than 2000 years would lie between the two events!
       Jesus uses this teaching to encourage His disciples, and as Mark writes he offers encouragement to the believers in Rome who were suffering for their faith, and to all believers through the ages who have suffered… and to us! The Maine* Idea he would teach us: Stay faithful! Life will get hard but Jesus is coming!
II. Signs of the Times? The beginning of the “birth pains” (v.8). 
4 And Jesus answered them, "See that no one leads you astray.  5 For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray.  6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
       It seems clear that Jesus is saying these kinds of things, wars, rumors of wars, conflict, famines and earthquakes, are exactly the kinds of things that will happen in this fallen world. The world is broken, under the curse, and so both conflict between humans and natural disasters of all kinds will happen… and both pagans and the people of God will suffer. Will believers go through the tribulation? Since the Fall, the world is under the curse. Jesus told His disciples in the Upper Room, “In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” That is essentially what Jesus is saying in this discourse, spoken just a day or two before the gathering in the upper room.  He says, “Do not be led astray by false messiahs” (or those who teach another Christ!), and don’t be anxious when the “birth pains” start… Jesus is in control.
       When our daughter was having her second child, back in 2014, we were in NJ for the birth. The plan was that we would stay with Arden, who was two years old, while Sarah was in the hospital for the birth. We were at my brother’s house sleeping when we got a call in the middle of the night, the labor pains had started! We drove over quickly, no doubt breaking a few speed limits on the way, and when we got to the old farm house where they were renting an upstairs apartment, the outside door was locked. We called up, and who came down the long flight of stairs to open the door? Sarah! Ian was upstairs having a bowl of cereal! They had a forty-minute drive to the hospital, I thought they would be in the car with the motor running! Don’t be anxious – these are just the beginning of the birth pains. (They made it to the hospital in plenty of time!).
       We can expect that just as labor pains become more frequent and intense as the birth approaches, so also tribulation will intensify as His return draws near. But it will be impossible to predict when it will be. And so, be ready, and as we see in the Maine* Idea, stay faithful! Life will get hard but Jesus is coming!
III. Practical Application of “Eschatology” (end-time studies): Be ready and stay faithful (v.5,9,23,33 [cf. “stay awake!” 34,35,37]).
       One thing you notice as you study the Bible is that theology is always practical. The indicative statements of truth are the basis for imperatives that tell us how we should live in the light of that truth. That applies to prophecy and the study of “last things” (eschatology) as well. One of the things we’ll notice as we work through Mark 13 over the next few weeks is that the chapter is full of imperatives, if I counted correctly nineteen times Jesus tells His disciples (and us!) how we should therefore live. Notice just a few…
  Mark 13:5   And Jesus began to say to them, "See that no one leads you astray.
  Mark 13:9  "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.”
  Mark 13:11do not be anxious beforehand what you will say…
  Mark 13:21   “And then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it.”
 *Mark 13:23   “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.”
  Mark 13:33  “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”
  Mark 13:35   “Therefore stay awake- for you do not know when the master of the house will come…”
You get the idea? Look at 13:23, “Be on guard, I have told you all things beforehand.” The short-term fulfillment of prophecy in AD 70 can encourage us. We can look back and see God’s sovereign hand. As those prophecies came to pass in chilling detail, so will His warnings concerning ongoing tribulation, and His promise concerning His return and the ultimate deliverance of those who believe. Remember our context in Mark. Jesus had cursed the Fig Tree, He had cleansed the Temple. These were symbolic acts of Judgment on the leaders of Israel. The worship of the nation had become in large part lifeless and external. The Passover King was now on the scene, and the final sacrifice would soon be offered. From Mark’s perspective, as he wrote the Gospel, the Lamb had been slain, and so God could be Just and the Justifier of all who believe (Rom 3:21-26). How long are we to bring that message to the world? “…even to the end of the age...” (Mt 28:20).
What is God saying to me in this passage? It is a difficult thing to prophesy, especially about the future, but even so, we can be sure that Jesus got it 100% correct. He is coming back! So, stay faithful! Life will get hard, but Jesus is coming!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? We’ll take our time working through this chapter. Think about three different audiences as you read this passage. First of all, Jesus’ disciples. They needed to know what was coming. After the Cross, Jesus would reveal His power in the resurrection. But then He would ascend, leaving His disciples behind, in this fallen world, with a mandate to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth, making disciples from every nation. In the course of that mission they would be persecuted, suffer, and most of them would ultimately give their lives. They needed to know that God had a plan, and that Jesus will return and establish His kingdom. They needed hope!
      Think also of Mark’s audience, maybe 30 years after the resurrection. The Roman believers were already being persecuted... Caligula… Claudius… then Nero. The believers still in Jerusalem needed to know that the city would soon fall and that the Temple would be razed. But God had already established a new temple. By the time of Mark’s writing Paul had by now told the Corinthians,
16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?  17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple… (I Cor 3:16,17).
The believers in Rome, to whom Mark wrote, likewise needed to be encouraged to watch, to be encouraged, and to continue to be engaged in the mission, being His witnesses, knowing their labor was not in vain in the Lord.
       And think of His Word to us. We can look back and see how precisely the predictions about Jerusalem were fulfilled in A.D. 70.  Just as certainly we can be assured of what is coming, and we can know, with certainty, that Jesus wins, and so do we if we belong to Him!  Jesus Christ, Crucified-Risen-Coming again. And by grace, we are His! We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!  The Lord’s Table invites us to look back and remember, while we worship and witness, we continue to show forth the Lord’s death until He comes.    AMEN.

Pastor's Report - October 2018

“Be on guard, keep awake, for you do not know when the time will come…” (Mark 13:33).
Pastor’s Report – October 2018
       This quarter at Boothbay Baptist Church we concluded a Sunday School series on “Awakening” from the Ligonier Ministries 2018 National Conference. We recently began a new series on prophecy, featuring the teaching of Dr. David Jeremiah, which has coincided with beginning a preaching series this week on Mark 13 and the Olivet Discourse.  My hope is that we will embrace these studies with the attitude of the Bereans in Acts 17, who received the teaching eagerly, and then went home and searched the Scriptures daily to see whether these things are so (Acts 17:10-11).  The inspired words of the Bible are our source of truth.  We want to give attention to the implications of the teaching on prophecy: be watchful, be ready, be encouraged, and be engaged, always mindful of the urgency of the mission that has been entrusted to us. Our hope is that this attention to what God has told us about the future will remind us to be faithfully engaged, here and now, in the mission that He has entrusted to us.
       Our emphasis on outreach to children is something we are pleased to see continuing. Our VBS this year was again a successful outreach, with over 40 children coming and an excellent team of more than 30 helpers. We have started our Word of Life Olympian ministry once again, working with 1-6th graders in our church, coming alongside parents in the task of helping these children mature in committed followers of Jesus. I’ve enjoyed joining with a group of leaders that have made this ministry a priority, bringing games, music, Bible, and discipleship to these kids [Personally, I would love to see a few more workers join us in this ministry, allowing us to start both a pre-K / Kindergarten ministry (Gopher buddies) and a junior high group (7th-9th grade). We have a core of young people in those age groups and one ministry could potentially feed the next as we seek to grow. We do not want to try to run under-staffed ministries that can’t adequately meet the needs of the kids].
       We are looking ahead to our next “Trunk or Treat” outreach, for the second year in a row doing this ministry at the YMCA. The Y gives us a well located, familiar venue that offers comfort, light, and warmth for our people to reach out to children from the community. Once again, a team from Word of Life Bible Institute will be with us, ministering through a couple of bounce houses and a “dunk team,” as well as looking for opportunities to share the gospel in one-on-one settings with young people from the community. We’ll also have Child Evangelism Fellowship participating, seeking to share Christ while doing face-painting and giving out gospel tracts. This is not a Halloween celebration, but rather a safe alternative where kids can have fun, and hopefully learn the truth about Jesus. If you haven’t yet signed up to host a table please consider joining us in this important outreach!
       The elders continue to share in the shepherding responsibility for the church family, and I am thankful for the elders, deacons, deaconesses, (and others) who watch out for needs in our church and community.  Deacon Justin Fowlie was recently licensed to the Gospel ministry, a first step in the process leading to ordination. Our Wednesday night prayer meeting and Bible Study has been well attended, and we may soon be able to start a second mid-week group at another location. The study questions from the bulletin form the basis of the Bible discussion, which has allowed for good participation and sharing. If you are interested in hosting, please talk to me! May we continue to carry out the mission God has given as, as Boothbay Baptist Church shines brightly as a Lighthouse of Grace and Truth!