Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Passover-King - Mark 14:1-2

The Passover-King
Mark 14:1-2 (Read 14:1-11)
Introduction: Black Friday is just past. The crowds, the sales, the excitement the bargains, gifts purchased to exchange on Christmas. The crowds may have been something like that Passover week in Jerusalem. Pilgrims arriving for the feast, guest rooms filling up, lambs being purchased for the sacrifice. In our context in Mark’s Gospel, the blackest of Fridays was approaching. The greatest transaction in the history of humankind was about to take place. The reason for the incarnation would soon be realized. As Isaiah the prophet had written 700 years earlier, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him [on Jesus] the iniquity of us all…” (Isa 53:6).
       Jesus has been showing His authority throughout the Gospel of Mark… He had authority to heal, to forgive sins, to cast out demons, to calm the stormy sea. He even had authority over death. Now, amazingly, He would show that He had authority to lay down His own life, and to take it up again. He spoke as a prophet in the previous chapter, revealing the coming destruction of the Temple which would happen in A.D. 70, while also alluding to His own return in messianic glory at the end of the age. But the disciples did not yet understand that the time of His Kingdom on earth was yet future, and the time of His departure was approaching. Jesus would again show His authority as He guides the story toward its pre-determined conclusion, in His time, finishing the work He came to do. No one would take His life, but He would lay it down of His own accord.
       The Passion of Christ confronts us with some challenging theology, including the intersection of human responsibility with divine sovereignty. The leaders are culpable for their rejection of Jesus. They should have recognized their own messiah. But God had a plan, fashioned within the God-head in eternity past. It was necessary to accomplish the rescue of His people. Peter seemed to get it when, on Pentecost, he both rebuked his countrymen for their unbelief, and affirmed the sovereign hand of God behind the events…
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-  23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it…” (Acts 2:22-24).
The story of the passion of Christ is the culmination of Mark’s Gospel. Everything before, it has been said, was an extended introduction. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “Gospel,” that is, “Good News,”  because Jesus accomplished what He came to do, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves, He paid a debt He didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.
Context: After looking ahead to coming tribulation, judgement, and the return of the King (Mark 13), Mark reminds us that this story will continue to unfold as planned: according to the predetermined purpose and foreknowledge of God.
The Maine* Idea: Jesus came as the Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne, who alone could shield us, by His blood, from the wrath we deserve.
I. The hour was approaching for the exaltation of the Son (14:1a).
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him,  2 for they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people."
     Let’s focus on the first part of verse one as we consider the revelation of Jesus as Sovereign: He is in control, guiding the story, to fulfill the Father’s plan. The leaders had been plotting the death of Christ since His ministry in Galilee. The triumphal entry, the crowds hailing Jesus in messianic language, the cleansing of the Temple, the repeated success of Jesus in repudiating the attempts of the leaders to trap Him with their questions… all of these things have added tension to the story, and pushed the leaders forward in their determination to put an end to Jesus. Even so, they had determined not to make a move on Christ during the feast. It would have been too public, too many people, too likely that it might result in a popular uprising against the leaders. Such a commotion would also draw the attention of the Roman authorities, which could turn out badly for the status quo which the leaders were enjoying. So, they thought it better to seize Him after the feast, to wait for a time when there would not be so much attention and potential for backlash.  
      But Jesus was in charge. He had revealed to His disciples that He would be handed over by the leaders to the gentiles, tortured and killed, and then be raised on the third day. They did not understand, and would not, until after the resurrection. But the timing was determined by the Father, not by the religious rulers. It had to unfold according to the plan of God, at time He had determined.
       Jesus came to fulfill the Scriptures, that is, the Law, the Prophets and the Writings that pointed to His death and resurrection. And it was Passover. The hour was approaching for the Lamb to be slain. After all, Jesus came as the Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne, who alone could shield us, by His blood, from the wrath we deserve. He is Lord, King, He also came…
     As Sacrifice: He came to shed His blood to save His own. Remember the questions Mark is answering as he writes his account of the life and work of Christ: 1) Who is Jesus; 2) Why did He come; and 3) What does it mean to follow Him? All three questions are further answered powerfully in this final section of Mark. He is the Son of God, the promised Deliverer, the Coming King. But He is not a King like the nations around them, the nations of the world. He is a Servant-King, a Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne. In God’s economy the crown and the cross cannot be separated. We see that picture in Revelation 5:6-12,   
6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.  8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  9 And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,  10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."  11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,  12 saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"
The Lamb who was slain, who alone was worthy to open the seals, who by His blood ransomed a people from every tribe and nation, and who would reign in His kingdom on the earth, is Jesus. How do we get from a reference to Passover, to John’s vision of a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, next to the throne of Heaven?  
       By the first century, the feast of Passover and Unleavened bread had been merged into a week of celebration, remembrance and worship. Passover was the “defining feast” of Judaism, one of the “pilgrim-feasts” when those who were able would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem for sacrifice and worship. It celebrated the deliverance of the first-born from the angel of death, and the deliverance of the nation from Egyptian bondage. The tenth and final plague would bring death to the Egyptians, but the Jews were to kill a spotless lamb, and put it’s blood over the door and on the door posts of every home. We read in Exodus 12:11-14,  
…It is the LORD's Passover.  12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.  13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.  14 "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
And God did as He promised. The Angel of Death passed over those homes that were marked with the blood. Death came to every home of the Egyptians. The Jews were told to celebrate that day every year, as a reminder of what God had done. As clear as that instruction was, it seems that after the time of Joshua, the nation fell away from celebrating the Passover. We read in 2 Kings 23:21-23,
21 And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”  22 For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem.
This Passover in Mark 14:1, 600 years or so after the time of Josiah, the Feast would be fulfilled in the Sacrifice of the Lamb. Jesus would be slain at the hour of the Passover sacrifice. As the blood of maybe a quarter of a million lambs was being shed in Jerusalem for the feast, the blood the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world, was being poured out. He willingly laid down his life for us. This is the heart of the Gospel message! Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. He is sovereign and sacrifice, the Lamb and the King. And so, the apostle Paul could write to the Corinthians that, “…Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed for us…” (I Cor 5:7).  Jesus came as the Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne, who alone could shield us, by His blood, from the wrath we deserve.
II. The hour was at hand for the leaders to be exposed (14:1b-2).
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him,  2 for they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people."
      We see the leaders exposed as scheming, murderous conspirators, ironically, plotting the death of their own Messiah! There is tremendous irony in the unfolding story of Jesus at this section of the Gospel. The leaders plot against Jesus, planning to put Him to death, yet also scheming to avoid any backlash from the people or from the Romans. Even as they reject Him, they fulfill their own Scriptures, adding one more line of evidence that proves that Jesus is in fact the promised Messiah!
       In addition to the Scriptures, they are also fulfilling the prophesies that Jesus himself had made to the disciples on the journey to Jerusalem, showing His omniscience and authority. Three times He told them what would happen…
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again… (Mk 8:31).
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know,  31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise…" (Mk 9:30-31).
32 And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,  33 saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles.  34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise…" (Mk 10:32-24).
And then Jesus says more about why He came, why His story had to unfold in this manner: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many..." (Mark 10:45). Paying a ransom implies delivering someone from captivity, setting them free. This is why He came. The scheme of the leaders, unknowingly, carried out the plan that God had established. Recall that their plans had begun forming almost as soon as the public ministry in Galilee had begun. After Jesus had healed one man on the Sabbath we read in Mark 3:6,  
The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Sabbath controversies, calling out the Pharisees for elevating the traditions of the Fathers on a par with Scripture, paved the way. Jesus’ actions since His arrival in Jerusalem did nothing to assuage their determination to kill Him! When Jesus disrupted the commerce in the Temple, casting out the money-changers and overturning the tables of those selling pigeons, we read in Mark 11:18,   
And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.
      Their minds were made up. The leaders are exposed as scheming, and also as scared, fearful of rejection by the people, and of oppression by Rome. The leaders were fearful, they were afraid of losing their power and prestige.  We get a little glimpse into the deliberation of the Sanhedrin in John 11:48,  
If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
And so, their scheming against Jesus exposed their hearts. Back in chapter 7 of Mark, Jesus had spoken of the things that defile, the evil that comes from the depths of the fallen human heart…
20 And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person..." (Mk 7:20-23).
The wickedness in the hearts of the rulers was revealed by their deceitful scheming against Jesus. In the words of the Apostle Peter, speaking on the day of Pentecost, they essentially nailed Him to the cross, by the hands of godless men (Acts 2:22,23). Yet we see further on in that same passage that “God has made Him both Lord and Christ…” (Acts 2:36). They were culpable, but it was God’s plan. He did it for us. That blackest of Fridays purchased for us the Gift of Christmas.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus came as the Passover-King, the Lamb on the throne, who alone could shield us, by His blood, from the wrath we deserve.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Black Friday is past, some of you got bargains... good for you! But let’s remember, this Christmas season, the blackest of Fridays, we also call it Good Friday, when the true gift of Christmas was purchased… life and redemption, reconciliation with God… for all who believe. Jesus is the Son of God, God the Son, the promised Messiah. He came to redeem us, paying the price for our sins. Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us, delivering us from wrath and for worship… to God be the glory!
       What does it mean to follow Him? Mark wants would-be disciples to know that they need to count the cost. As the world is at enmity with God, under the influence of the prince of darkness, spiritually dead, that same hatred will be directed toward followers of Jesus as well. The Bible says, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Tim 3:11). The disciples would experience it. The church in Rome to which Mark is writing understood it… believers in many parts of the world are experiencing it still today. And some day, in some way, so will you if you determine to follow Jesus.
       Advent season is a great opportunity to ask a question about the reason for the day and turn conversations toward spiritual things. Maybe there is someone you can invite to Journey to Bethlehem tonight, it is a perfect opportunity to share with someone who needs to hear the good news! You could also invite them to one of the Sunday services this month. We’ll seek each week to connect the message of Christmas with a word about why He came.  As we interact with our families and friends let’s seek this month to lift up the name of Jesus and even to speak of the gift that He purchased and holds forth to humanity: The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord… AMEN!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Stay Awake! - Mark 13:32-37

Stay Awake!
Mark 13:32-37
Introduction: I know that no one has ever fallen asleep in church, but did you ever fall asleep at an embarrassing or inappropriate time (Acts 20:9)? As I thought about that, one biblical story came quickly to mind from the Book of Acts…
7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.  8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered.  9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.  10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, "Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him."  11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.  12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted… (Acts 20:7-12).
Actually when I was a youth pastor about 30 years ago, I was asked to preach at the Easter sunrise service… and one of the teens in my youth group… I think it might have been the son of the senior pastor, started wobbling about midway through the message, and then fell forward and banged his head on the pew! Most cases, if someone falls asleep it is somewhat more subtle (and less noticeable!). We don’t have a balcony to fall from, but still I would urge you to stay awake! (I can assure you I won’t be preaching until midnight!). As Jesus concludes this discourse on the Mount of Olives He urges His hearers, and us, to “stay awake!
Context: In this chapter to Mark, in response to a question from His disciples, Jesus prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and also looked ahead to His return and the end of the age. We saw that we should stay faithful, because life will get hard but Jesus is coming! It’s the assurance of God’s presence and the certainty of victory that enables us to endure both the trials of life and the attacks of the enemy. We learned that we can be assured that God is in control and that His Word will guide us through difficult times, with the sure hope that Jesus is coming soon to gather His people! That brings us to today’s passage and…
The Maine* Idea: The imminent return of Christ means that every believer needs to serve faithfully and stay alert until He comes.

I. A Trustworthy Word: God’s Word is sure, and He has intentionally not revealed the time of the return of Christ (31-32). Let’s read v.31 and 32 together,
31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  32 "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 
      What God has revealed will come to pass (31). The first point to start with here was the last verse we covered two weeks ago, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” There are two sides to that statement, the first being that this present world, creation as we know it, will not continue forever in its present state. As Peter writes in his second epistle, we are
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells… (2 Peter 3:12-13).
This world has a limited “life span,” and we are looking for something better, creation as it was meant to be, where we’ll experience life, the way it should be, in His presence.  Free, at last, from the effects of the Fall. By the way, as Peter makes that statement, he says this period of “delay” is to allow the message to go out, because of the patience of God and His unwillingness that any should perish. In the light of His impending return and the coming judgment, we should live our lives, pursuing holiness (v.11,14). Jesus will return and judge the world in righteousness. How then must we live?
       In contrast to heavens and earth, which will pass away, God’s word will never pass away. That is the point He is making. His Word is truth, and His truth is eternal. The God who is, the great I AM, has spoken. We have His word in the collection of books we call the Bible, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. He makes it clear in His Word that as surely as He came to this world 2000 years ago, born as a baby in Bethlehem, as surely as He died and was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, Jesus, this same Jesus, is coming again. Former president of Moody Bible Institute, George Sweeting, said…
More than a fourth of the Bible is predictive prophecy. Approximately one-third of it has yet to be fulfilled. Both the Old and the New Testaments are full of promises of the return of Jesus Christ. Over 1,800 references appear in the Old Testament, and seventeen Old Testament books give prominence to this theme. Of the 260 chapters in the New Testament, there are more than 300 references to the Lord’s return—one out of every thirty verses. Twenty three of the twenty seven New Testament books refer to this great event. Three of the four other books are single chapter letters written to individuals concerning a particular subject, and the fourth is Galatians, which does imply Christ’s coming again. For every prophecy on the first coming of Christ, there are eight on the second coming…
Now I have to admit that I haven’t verified Sweetings statistics, but we have to agree that God has spoken, and He has spoken often and clearly about the promise of the Lord’s return! In our passage Jesus says “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away…” Jesus will return!
       What God has not revealed, is not for us to know (32; cf. Dt 29:29).  But He says in Mark 13:32, “…concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” No one knows when. Not the angels. Not even the Son as He spoke of the perspective of His humanity. Only the Father. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 29:29, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…” That is pretty clear, is it not? Why then have we seen throughout the history of the church repeated attempts to calculate or predict the hour of His coming? When we started this chapter a month and a half ago, I mentioned Acts 1:6, after the resurrection, when the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons the Father has set by His own authority…
       God has chosen not to tell us when. Why? I believe it is clear enough, the prospect of His return should motivate us to live differently, to pursue holiness, to stay engaged in the mission He has entrusted to us, knowing that the time could be short.  Because we don’t know when, we need to redeem the time (and stay laser-focused). Plan ahead, of course, as though He may not return for 100 years. But live as though it could be today. That is the Maine* Idea in this passage: The imminent return of Christ means that every believer needs to serve faithfully and stay alert until He comes. And so we see a I. Trustworthy Word, and also a…
II. A Timely Mission: Because we don’t know the time, we must stay watchful, engaged in the mission He has given us (33-34; Acts 1:8-11).
33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.  34 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. 
       Because we don’t know the day of His appearing, we need to stay alert, watching for His coming. How often do you think about the return of Christ? (Your answer to that question might depend on how things are going in your life at the moment!). The expectation of His return, and the realization that it could be soon, will have an impact on how we live, and on our priorities.
       Jesus uses a short parable to lay out this idea of living in expectation and watchfulness. He says it is like a man going on a journey, putting His servants in charge. That is a good illustration of what Christ has done, is it not? Jesus is the man who has gone on a journey and left His servants in charge, each one with his work. He is of course, in a real sense, still present, in charge, and building His church. But since the ascension, in another sense, He has been away (at least bodily). And He left His disciples, and by extension, us, in charge. Think about the disciples in Mark. Slow to understand, self-centered, fearful… and then take a look in the mirror! Despite our weaknesses and failings, God has chosen to work in us and through us to carry out His mission in the world. That is why we are here. That is what the Great Commission is about, we are here on assignment. This is essentially the point in Acts 1:6-11…
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."
Jesus will return, but for now, at this time, the instruction was to wait for the pouring out of the Spirit, and then, to focus on the mission that He had given.
      An interesting detail here, the master, as he put his servants in charge, it was to be “…each with his own work…” (v.34). I don’t want to read too much into the details of a parable like this, but that language made me think of our common mission, but also of the diversity of gifts the Lord has given to the church. We read for example in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7,  
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
A few years back we had a Sunday School series called Team Ministry. We’ve also talked about that same idea using the acrostic developed by another pastor/writer called “S.H.A.P.E.” The idea was that God has uniquely “shaped” each of us, our Spiritual gifts, our “Heart’s desire, our Abilities, Personality, and Experiences, have all been providentially and sovereignly guided by God to mold us into the person we are, for the good of the church and for the glory of God. We all have a part in the common mission, but we are each unique, the workmanship of God. The Bible teaches the unity of the church, but also the diversity of gifts, which work together under the headship of Christ to build each other up so that we can more effectively carry out the mission He has entrusted to us.
       That fits with the Maine* Idea we’ve been talking about: The imminent return of Christ means that every believer needs to serve faithfully and stay alert until He comes. We have a trustworthy word, and a timely mission, motivated by…
III. A Blessed Hope: The uncertainty of the time of His return motivates believers in every age to live with hope and expectancy (35-37).
35 Therefore stay awake- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning-  36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake."
       We see the practical implications of the doctrine of imminence, the expectation of the Lord’s return – the “blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” And so, we live in hope, expecting the Lord, looking for His return, faithfully using our gifts to encourage and build each other up, seriously seeking to be a witness where He has sovereignly and strategically placed us. The word “hope” does not appear in this verse, but the idea permeates this entire chapter. By “hope” I don’t mean to imply that there is any doubt about Christ’s return or that we are to “wish” for it without any reasonable basis for that expectation. New Testament “hope” means to anticipate His coming with a confident expectation, it is a sure hope. Where is that hope from? Is it rational?
      The fulfillment of the near-term prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in this context, which occurred in AD 70, gave the early church one more basis for knowing that He will keep as surely the promise of His return. Of course, long before that event, just a few days from when Christ spoke these words, His resurrection, which He had predicted at least three times on the way to Jerusalem, would give a firm foundation to believe!
       The call to “stay awake” implies expectation, hopefulness, looking and longing for His coming. This week I read the story of a Scottish fishing village that illustrates this idea of watchfulness…
After days at sea, the skipper of a fishing boat was bring his craft back home. As the boat neared the shore, the men gazed eagerly toward the dock, where a group of their loved ones were waiting. The skipper, looking through his glass, identified some of the women, saying, “I see Bill’s Mary, and there is Tom’s Margaret, and David’s Anne.” One man was very anxious because his wife was not there. He left the boat with a heavy heart and pressed his steps up the hill, where he saw a light in his cottage. As he opened the door, his wife ran to meet him, saying, “I have been waiting for you!” He replied… “Yes, but the other men’s wives were watching for them!”
Watchfulness. Expectation. Anticipation. He will return! Jesus is coming again! Does that truth add a sense of urgency to your life? We are called to be His witnesses, and we are a witness by the way, for better or for worse! Let’s choose to embrace our calling, to pray, urgently, for those in our sphere of influence, to seize opportunities to tell them the truth, holding forth the Word of Life.
       Can you remember your engagement? The wedding date was set, invitations sent, plans made for a honeymoon vacation after the celebration. Maybe even some premarital counselling where you talk through your plans for your life together. Let me ask: during your engagement, how often did you think ahead to your wedding day? Once a month? A couple of times a week? Every day? How often do you think about the Lord’s return? Do you pray for it? Or, quite honestly, do you feel like it might interfere with some of the things that you would like to do or see before that day? We have a wedding day to look forward to! The bridegroom is returning. The church is described as the bride of Christ. The marriage supper of the Lamb will include us!  Do you look forward to His coming? Expectantly? I think we need to keep this doctrine before ourselves!
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Maine* idea we’ve been looking at is simply this: The imminent return of Christ means that every believer needs to serve faithfully and stay alert until He comes.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? I doubt that most of you, on a typical Sunday, would fall asleep in church! (Though if the preacher went until midnight, all bets are off!). Even so, and I know it is true in my own spiritual life, we can easily begin “drifting off,” losing the alertness, our laser-focus, the “watchfulness” that we are called to have as believers. Not standing around looking upward, but faithfully engaged in the mission He has entrusted to us! Are we living with the expectation that Jesus will return?
       If we get the doctrine of the return of Christ, the imminence of His coming, into our heads and hearts, we will have all the motivation we need to live with expectancy, and with urgency, as we consider the people God has in our lives, and the opportunity we have to be His witnesses. Stay awake! Stay faithful!  Amen.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Behold! He Comes! Mark 13:24-31

Behold! He Comes!
Mark 13:24-31
Introduction: One little girl heard her Sunday School teacher talk about the return of Christ. When she saw her mom later she asked her, “Mommy do you believe Jesus is coming back? And that it could be soon?” The mom replied, “Yes dear, I do.” The girl paused and then asked, “Would you please comb my hair?” She wanted to be ready! I think that is one of the practical implications of this doctrine: be ready! That theme is very clear and it carries through this chapter.
       As we have gone through this chapter I’ve pointed out that of all the chapters in Mark, this is the most challenging and most disputed, even among conservatives, as to nailing down the meaning of Jesus’ words (and as those who come out on Wednesday nights know, I am still far from having all of this figured out!). The question of Jesus’ meaning in verse 30, “this generation,” is the crux of the entire discourse and will impact our reading of the whole chapter. Is Jesus in fact saying that everything He is describing in this chapter will have happened during the current generation then living, as He spoke, including the end of the age and His coming in glory? Some take that view to the extreme, actually seeing no connection between what Jesus is saying here and the events preceding and leading to His second coming and the establishment of His kingdom. At the other end of the spectrum are those who push the whole thing into the distant future, seeing no prediction of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, taking a completely “futurist” view, all of this is a prophecy of the great tribulation at the end of the age. I’ve been trying to make the case that Jesus is in a sense doing both. The disciples asked about “when” Jesus’ prediction about the Temple would be fulfilled, but they also asked Him about His coming and the end of the Age. He weaves His answers together, giving them a relatively near-term prophecy concerning the coming destruction of the Temple, while also pointing to a future tribulation and His glorious appearing at the end of the Age.
Context: We’ve seen in the Olivet discourse the call to stay faithful, because life will get hard but Jesus is coming. We’ve been encouraged that the assurance of God’s presence and the certainty of victory will enable us to endure both the trials of life and the attacks of the enemy, and that we can be assured that God is in control and that His Word will guide us through difficult and deceptive times.
      This week we’ll see… The Maine* Idea: Jesus is coming soon to gather His people to Himself! Are you ready?
I. Jesus is coming! He will come again to gather His people (24-27). Jesus has been describing days of Tribulation, as well as a soon to come period of intense Tribulation, the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Those events, it seems to me, point ahead to a “Great Tribulation” at the end of the age which will occur before His coming. That day will be marked by cosmic events…
"But in those days, following that distress, "'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light;  25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' 
       First, we see that a prophecy of cosmic signs will be powerfully fulfilled (24-25). We probably should have expected that! All of creation was impacted by the Fall, and it makes sense that of all creation will be shaken as God’s redemptive plan continues to unfold in the return of Christ. Paul says in Romans 8:19-22 that
19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
We’ve seen that language of “birth pains” in this passage as well. The tribulations we experience in life, including the natural or cosmic reminders that we live in a fallen world, should cause us to look heavenward, waiting for the unfolding drama of redemption to take its next step. The prophets had anticipated the coming Day of the Lord, when heavens would be shaken at the arrival of the messianic Judge and Redeemer… Let’s read a couple of predictions of what lay ahead... Isaiah pictures the heavens shaking as God’s day of judgement arrives…
Isaiah 13:9-13   9 See, the day of the LORD is coming--a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger-- to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it.  10 The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.  11 I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.  12 I will make man scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir.  13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger.
Is that all poetic imagery? We see similar language elsewhere, also expressing a coming day of judgement…
Ezekiel 32:7-8   7 When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light.  8 All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign LORD.
Joel 2:10   10 Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine.
Later in Joel 2 the language continues, but with a shift toward hope and salvation for those who call on the Lord…
Joel 2:28-32  28 "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.  30 "And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.  31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.  32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls…
Another passage in Joel reflects both judgement and hope, and also calls for a decision…
Joel 3:12-18   12 'Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side.  13 Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow-- so great is their wickedness!'  14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.  15 The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine.  16 The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.  17 'Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her.  18 'In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the LORD's house and will water the valley of acacias.
We see a lot in those verses, nations being judged, multitudes in the “valley of decision,” the earth and the sky trembling, God’s presence, kingdom blessings being poured out on this people. Back in our context in Mark Jesus goes from the shaking of the cosmos to…
      A Promise fulfilled: His coming in Glory for His people (26-27). Back in Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13:26-27, the Lord alludes to another prophet, Daniel, to describe the day of his coming in glory…
26 "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  27 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. 
I do not believe we should push the details of this chapter into a precise timetable. The point is that, as Jesus said in the upper room, “In the world you will have tribulation.” As we experience it in our lives, as we see it in the world, it should remind us that Jesus is coming again, and He will save those who are His, those He calls here “the elect.” All of that tribulation should tell us that His return is imminent, that is it could happen at any time. Alistair Begg said along those lines, “If He is near, He can’t be here!” The cosmic upheaval that is described here will happen at His coming in glory, essentially announcing His arrival. This points to The Maine* Idea, for us and for readers in every age: Jesus is coming soon to gather His people to Himself! Are you ready?
II. Be ready, He is coming soon! Jesus will come again and the time is near (28-31). Jesus now uses an illustration to reinforce the point…
28 "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.  29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 
      A prediction of His imminent return (28-29). Sandwiched around the Temple cleansing, the episode of Jesus cursing the fig tree pointed to God’s impending judgement of Israel. Is that connection to be made here? Maybe. Certainly we can say that Jesus is turning to an example from nature, an illustration, to illumine the point He is making. The lesson of the fig tree here is that the things Jesus has just described, the tribulation in the world, the example of intense tribulation that would occur at the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, all of that should remind us that just as the tender shoots and sprouting leaves would reliably tell that people that summer is near, so the kind of tribulation He has described should tell us that God’s plan is moving toward a climax, and that the promise of His coming is at hand. Remember the little girl’s reaction when she heard Jesus was coming soon, she asked her mom to comb her hair, she wanted to be ready! Around this time Jesus told a parable that we have in Matthew 25. Let’s read a few verses…
"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,  4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.  5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.  6 But at midnight there was a cry, 'Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him… 
The foolish virgins were not ready! They were locked out. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour… (Matt 25:13).
      Over the last couple of years, the news headlines, the stories of suffering in people’s lives, the evil we see showing itself as recently as a week ago in Pittsburg, all of these things remind us why Jesus came, that is, because of our sin problem. He came, to reconcile sinners to God and ultimately to restore creation, to overcome the curse and to make it possible for believers, the elect, to experience Life, the way life should be! This should also be a reminder, to look up, expectantly, with hope. Paul wrote to a young disciple in Titus 2:11-14,   
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,  12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,  13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,  14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
Notice what Paul is saying, the hope of His appearing in glory is a motivation to us to live differently, seeking to make choices that honor the King.
      A promise that His Word is sure (30-31). This brings us to the verse that I called the crux of the passage. The key is to what is Jesus referring with the phrase “this generation,” and also to what does He refer when He speaks of “all things”?
30 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.  31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
First, let’s consider the phrase “all these things.” To what was Jesus referring? Remember the discourse began with Jesus responding to a question the disciples asked, “Tell us when will these things be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4).  Matthew gives us a little more detail, telling us the disciples also asked, “And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matt 24:3). I have argued that Jesus weaves together in his response His answers to both of these questions, which the disciples probably view as simultaneous events. This is similar to what we often see in the Old Testament prophets, who wove together references to the first coming of Christ and his return in glory (cf. Zech 9:9,10 f.). But doesn’t Jesus also imply that this generation will see these prophecies fulfilled? That brings us to the crux of this passage, and the expression…
      “…this generation…” To what is Jesus referring? The natural reading of the English translations might seem to be the generation in which Jesus was living and speaking.  Jesus spoke of the “signs” of the Temple’s destruction, but also that His coming was near, leading the cosmic disturbances that come, it seems, with his Parousia. This generation, the people alive as Jesus spoke this word to His disciples, would see that signs He describes in this passage, including wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and pestilences, the birth pangs that remind us everyday that we live in a fallen world. Further, they would see a specific horrific example of human depravity and rebellion in the siege and the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. It seems to me He is saying that these birth pangs will continue and will intensify until Jesus returns. What we see happening in the world should tell us that all is not right in the world, but that Jesus is coming, and He will make all things new.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The passage we read earlier in Joel reflects both judgement and hope, and also calls for a decision… Joel 3:12 says, Let the nations be roused…” That mission has been entrusted to us until He comes. So we should be diligent, alert, and engaged. Why? Verse 14 tells us, For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.  Time is short, Jesus is coming, unbelief will be judged. Deliverance and life, abundant life, blessing, the “way life should be,” is offered to all who will believe. Jesus said, “I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly!” He came to pay the redemption price, to offer to humanity reconciliation with God. That begins with seeing our need, our sin, our unrighteousness, our self-centeredness, and then, as our eyes are opened to recognize the Savior we turn from our sin, to Jesus, calling on His name. God’s promise is that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? When we consider the thrust of this passage, the promise of His coming, we again come to a first Sunday and plan to celebrate the Lord’s Table together. Remember the questions Mark has been answering: 1) Who is Jesus? 2) Why did He come? And 3) What does it mean to follow Him? Jesus isn’t merely another prophet, He is the prophet like Moses of whom the Scripture spoke. He isn’t just a son of David, He is the ideal Son to whom all others pointed, the Son of God, incarnate. And indeed He is a High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek, but even greater in that the blood that He offers is not that of bulls or goats, but His own precious blood, He is both priest, and the Lamb. He is the One the Father sent to be our substitute, to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves, to pay a price we could not pay. He died and rose again, and this same Jesus is coming again! That is our sure hope! In the Lord’s Table we show forth the Lord’s death until He comes.  AMEN.