“The Second Coming”      Mark 13:1-37     April 6, 2008

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO:  The Second Coming is mentioned 300 times in the NT.

It’s one of the pillars of the Christian faith.

   Every branch of the church affirms that Jesus will return.

   Believing it makes a real difference in your life.

 

Mark 13 starts out with Jesus prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem

   and the Temple, but then he begins to speak of is Second Coming.


INTRO:  When I was a little 4th grade Presbyterian boy,

   my parents sent me to a Christian school run by Free Will Baptists. 

There I was taken out of my comfortable theological bubble, and for the next 5

   years exposed to teachings that were amazing and at times perplexing to me.

 

One of the areas that caused me the most amazement and perplexity

   was their teaching on end times.

I had been taught a rather simple view all my life.

   It basically went like this:  Jesus will come again one day with his angels

   to judge the living and the dead.  We don’t know when he’ll come, but we

   must be ready.  That means living a faithful and moral life before God.

There weren’t many more details than that.

   I never, ever heard anyone connect current events in the Middle East

   with the Second Coming of Christ. 

 

But his coming was very much alive in my mind

   because we said the Apostles’ Creed every Sunday—there was that line:

   “From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

As a child I imagined the quick people trying to get away from Jesus,

   but then my mother told me that quick is an old timey word for living.

And that took some of fun out of saying the Creed.

 

At the Free Will Baptist school, chapel services were often about end times.

   And I heard things I had never heard before. 

I remember a chapel service where they told us that the Soviet Union and China,

   Gog and Magog, were going to join armies to invade Israel. 

But instead of destroying Israel, they would be destroyed in a terrible battle and the

   blood of all their soldiers would be as deep as the bridles of horses

   in the Valley of Armageddon.

 

And they said that the Anti-Christ is even now alive somewhere in Europe.

   Soon his followers would get the mark of the beast, 666,

   tattooed on their right hands and foreheads.

I distinctly remember that I didn’t believe that was in the Bible. 

   Asked, what’s this 666 mark of the beast? 

   They said, It’s in Revelation 13.

   I read it and I was shocked.  There it was.

Sort of like the shock people get when they say predestination isn’t in the Bible,

   and you tell them to read Ephesians 1. 

So all through those years I would ask my dad about these things.

   He very carefully and slowly explained to me the symbolism of Revelation.

   Why Christians get into trouble applying newspaper headlines to prophecy.

And how the details of the Second Coming are very hard to understand,

   and that we need to be humble in asserting exactly what something means.

 

And he also told me that even though we disagree with other Christians,

   like the Free Will Baptists, on the details, we agree on the big thing—

   Jesus is coming back one day to judge the world and set things right.

 

Now Mark 13 is a tough passage.  And the difficulty is in the details.

   When you read it, lots of questions come to mind.

Which parts are about the destruction of Jerusalem, which about Second Coming?

   What is the abomination that causes desolation?

   What does it mean that the stars will fall from the sky?

What does it mean that this generation will not pass away

    until all these things have happened?

How can it be that not even the Son knows the day or the hour?

   If no one knows, then what does it mean to watch for his coming?

 

I can’t answer all of those in a sermon. 

A Sunday school class or a Bible study a better format

   for working through details like that than a sermon.

I have opinions about all of the details in Mark 13.

   But I feel the force of other views.  No single interpretation of details water-tight.

 

So I’m not going to focus on explaining the details in this sermon.

I’m not even going to focus the three times Jesus talks about the elect.

   That’s like throwing red meat to a Calvinist, but I’m going to skip that.

So what are we left with if we don’t dig into the details?

   We’re left with something huge, the Second Coming itself.

   The Second Coming of Jesus Christ, with all of its certainty, all of its mystery.

I want us to focus on what Jesus tells us we ought to do with this doctrine.

 

Look at two commands he gives, one at the beginning, one at the end:

1.  Do not be alarmed.

2.  Be alert, be on guard, keep watch.

   These are very important, very practical life applications of

   the doctrine of the Second Coming.  Let’s look at each.


MP#1  First, Jesus tells us:  Do not be alarmed.

What’s the opposite of being alarmed or panicked? 

   It’s being calm.  It’s being balanced and realistic.

Christians should be the most calm of all people in the face of disasters.

   They should never be alarmed by politics or economics or bad news. 

Because Jesus’ Second Coming gives us the ultimate reason to be calm.

   To the degree that you believe in his coming, you will be calm and not alarmed.

 

Look at the context of Jesus’ teaching.

They were leaving the Temple and one of his disciples was in awe of the building

   and he said:  Wow, just look at that.  How massive.  How magnificent.

And it was.  History and archaeology tells us this was an amazing structure.

   Then Jesus made his famous prophecy:

   “Not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down.”

 

It’s hard to fully appreciate what a jolt this was to the disciples.

   They couldn’t really comprehend it. 

The Jerusalem Temple was the center of the Jewish world.

   There was nothing more central and stabilizing in the Jewish mind

   than the Temple of God in Jerusalem.

 

It’s as if Jesus said to us—in this generation you will see the utter destruction

   of the American way of life.  A total economic meltdown. 

   Abandonment of all democratic principles, violation of all civil rights.

America will become a third-world country. 

   We would not even be able to comprehend what that would be like.

 

It must have shocked them into silence. 

Then later that day, sitting on Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple

   Peter, James, John, and Andrew said:  Tell us when this will happen.

And Jesus began to tell about all the terrible things would happen in the build up

   to this destruction of Jerusalem:  Wars, rumors of wars, economic and social

   turmoil, natural disasters, religious persecution.

 

All of those things did happen in that generation. 

   About 40 years later, in 70 A.D. the Romans tore the Temple down to the ground,

   destroyed Jerusalem and brought an end to the Jewish world as they knew it.

In a sense for the Jews of that day the stars did fall from the sky

   and the heavenly bodies were shaken.

But in the context of all of this Jesus said:  “Do not be alarmed.”

   And then he began to weave into his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem,

   the promise of his Second Coming.

 

Here we learn something absolutely invaluable for Christians.

   Every disaster, every calamity—whether natural or manmade—

   everything that shakes our world, is a pointer to Christ’s Second Coming.

We have to consciously make that jump.  We have to say. 

   This reminds me that Jesus is coming back to judge the world and set things right. 

 

After Jesus said: “Do not be alarmed.”  He explained why.

   He said:  “Such things must happen.”

   Do not be alarmed.  Such things must happen.

What did that mean?  Why must they happen?

 

Jesus often spoke like this.  He often said that important things “must” happen.

   Remember the time he said the Son of Man “must” go to Jerusalem,

   he “must” be delivered over to death and rise again.

That was Jesus’ way of talking about the sovereignty of God. 

   It must happen because God has willed it.  It was part of his plan.

 

Jesus was telling the disciples that this great disaster that would fall on Jerusalem

   as not the result of random forces, it was part of the plan of God.

And what a great comfort that it.  To know that all history is under God’s control.

   You listen to the news and hear about political forces, economic, natural forces.

 

And at times we seem to be at the mercy of those forces.

   What’s going to happen in the presidential election?

   What’s going to happen to the economy?

   What’s going to happen with terrorism?

But Jesus reminds his disciples that above all of these forces is God himself.

   He directs the rise and fall of nations. 

   He shakes the things that people trust.

God is in control of history and for that reason we should not be alarmed.

 

The Jesus said it again in another way:

   “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.”

What a powerful image this is.

Jesus is saying that God has turned all of the disasters and evils into labor pains.

   Wars, earthquakes, famines are part of the curse.  They are the result of sin. 

This is not the way God created the world.  He created it good.

   Adam fell and creation is groaning under the curse.

   But God in his grace has turned these into labor pains.

 

Labor pain is terrible pain but it’s pain with a happy ending.

   I will never forget the night Allison went into labor with Adrienne.

   First child, Allison had read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” 1000x

One thing it said was that you needed to time your contractions so you could

   tell the doctor how frequent they were.

 

So Allison said:  When I feel one, I’m going to poke you. 

   You lean over and write down the time.  All night, she would poke me.

   I would squint at the clock, and write down the time.

Allison kept that paper—we found it recently.  My handwriting degenerated.

   But I can’t complain.  I wasn’t hurting.  She was. 

 

A woman suffers but she knows it will result in something wonderful, a new life.

Jesus was saying to the disciples. 

   Don’t be alarmed.  All of the terrible things you may experience in this old world

   as a result of the curse, God in his amazing grace has turned into birth pains.

 

There will be an amazing re-birth of the world as God intended it to be. 

   When will that happen?  At Christ’s Second Coming.

When he comes, he will set things right and creation will be restored

   as it was at the beginning, and the fig tree will bud and leaf,

   and we will enjoy the eternal summer of the new heavens and new earth.

 

If you believe that, will not be alarmed when these things happen.

   Yes, they are terrible.  Yes, they are the result of the curse.

   No, this is not how the world is supposed to be.

But God in his grace has turned them into labor pains—

   as we look forward to the return of the Son of God.

 

Do not be alarmed.  These things must happen.  They are birth pains.

   Jesus is coming back.


That brings us to the second command at the end of the chapter.

   Or maybe we should say a group of commands.  Jesus says:

MP#2  Be alert, be on guard, keep watch.

   What does this group of commands mean?

It is simply a call to integrity and faithfulness.

   It is like the commands:  Fight the good fight.  Or keep in step with the Spirit.

But in stating them this way, Jesus is saying that his Second Coming

   is one of the great motives for righteous living. 

 

There are lots of details in Mark 13 that are hard to understand.

   But there are two teachings in this chapter that are crystal clear:

   Jesus is coming back.  We don’t know when.

It’s interesting how strongly Jesus pushes home the point that we don’t know when.

   No one knows.  Not even the angels, not even the Son.

   Jesus as man does not know the time of his return.  (That’s another mystery!)

 

Then he has that little parable.

   The servants don’t know when the master is returning.

   It will be sudden and unexpected.  Jesus could not say it more clearly. 

He is coming back.  We don’t know when.

   When you believe both of these truths together, they produce an incredibly

   powerful motivation to live a life of integrity and faithfulness. 

 

That’s what Jesus means when he says:  Watch. 

   Watch doesn’t mean:  Look for signs, try to figure out when it will happen.

   Watch means:  Be ready spiritually and morally. 

Repent of your sins and fight against them. 

   Love your neighbor.  Obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

   Jesus is coming back and we don’t know when.  .

 

CS Lewis puts this so well:

“Precisely because we cannot predict the moment, we must be ready at all times.  We must train ourselves to ask more and more often how the thing we are saying or doing or failing to do at each moment will look when the irresistible light streams in upon it.  That irresistible light that is so different from the light of this world, that will reveal all things as they truly are.  Women sometimes have the problem of judging by artificial electric lights how their clothing and makeup will look by the full light of the sun.  That is what we have to do.  We have to learn how to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next one.  The good dress is the one that will face that light, for that light will last forever.”

 

Isn’t that a powerful image?  You are living your life.  Doing your thing.

   And suddenly, the irresistible light streams in upon you. 

Jesus’ coming reveals everything instantly.  Behavior and thoughts.

   You have no time to cover up. 

   There is no time to erase or hide or change anything.

 

All the changes you’ve said you will make—

   Some day I’ll pray with my children. 

   Some day I’ll be more generous with my money.

   Some day I’ll forgive that person and get over my bitterness.

   Some day I’ll be more outspoken about my faith.

That time is over and Jesus is here.

   The owner of the house has come, and his servants are working or sleeping.

   If you believe that, what a powerful motive for faithful living.

 

But it also presents a problem, doesn’t it?

The thought of Christ coming when we least expect him,

   and the thought of that irresistible light streaming in upon us is frightening.

Will I be ready when he comes?  What will be revealed?

   If you have any self-awareness at all, the Second Coming itself is frightening.

 

It’s well and good for Jesus to tell us not be alarmed by all the calamities

   and disasters in this fallen world because he is coming back to set things right.

But when you think a lot about him coming to set things right,

   that’s even scarier. 

Because it means judgment.

   Setting things right means judging what is wrong.

 

Jesus says:  Don’t let the owner of the house find you sleeping.

   Knowing myself, and how much I sin every day—odds are he will!

I feel like the Psalmist who says:

   “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”

 

I heard this week an illustration of the judgment that was very frightening.

From Francis Schaeffer (a Presbyterian missionary and writer).

   Image that when you were born, God put an invisible tape recorder around neck.

   Only time it would record, when you criticized someone, or told them what

   they ought to do, how they ought to live.

 

If on the judgment day God said:  I’m not going to judge you by the 10

   commandments or by the golden rule or by anything in the Bible,

   I’m going to judge you by your own words and standards.

And then he played the tape—we would all be condemned.

   None of us would stand—even by our own standards.

   How much more by God’s law.

 

So if that is how we are, how can you look at the Second Coming with anything

   but fear?  How can you keep watch, long for it?  Want Jesus to set things right?

 

There is only one way.

   Have to look at all these terrible images of judgment,

   and see that Jesus himself has already suffered every one.

This verse in Isaiah that Jesus quotes, seems to sum up the terror of that day.

 

The sun will be darkened—everything will be shaken.

How amazing that just days after Jesus spoke these words—he experienced this.

   The sun was darkened for those three terrible hours.

   And his world was shaken as he suffered God’s wrath and cried out:

   “My God, my God.  Why have you forsaken me?”

 

On the cross the good Son of God, who lived all of his life so perfectly,

   that if the irresistible light had shined on him at any time—

   it would have exposed a life of perfect goodness inside and out—

   He got rejection and judgment and death.

 

That’s the Gospel.  And that is what makes Christ’s Second Coming good news.

When the Apostle John had his great vision of Revelation—

   do you remember how he sees Jesus?

   As a lamb, looking as if it had been slain.

 

That’s how we can watch for the Second Coming without fear and

   with actual hope and eagerness.

Because we know that Christ has suffered for our sins—

   and we will ultimately stand in that day, and get the commendation

   of the master, not because of our merits, but because of his.

 

 

 


CONC:  Jesus is coming to judge the quick and the dead.

 

For many that will be a terrible day.

The irresistible light will stream in upon them,

   and will expose fruitless deeds of darkness—and it will be too late.

   All of their resolutions to be better people, will have come to nothing.

And unprepared, they will face the Judge.

 

But as believers we have better hopes:

Heidelberg Catechism asks:

   What comfort does the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead give you?

 

This is the great answer:

That in all affliction and persecution I may await, with head held high,

the very Judge from heaven who has already submitted Himself

   to the judgment of God for me

   and has removed all the curse from me;

that He will cast all His enemies and mine into everlasting condemnation,

   but He shall take me, together with all His elect,

   to Himself into heavenly joy and glory.

 

Train yourself to think of his coming more often—

   so that you will not be alarmed and panicked,

   but calm and balanced in the face of all the turmoil of this age.

And so that you will be alert and watchful—

   living a life of obedience by his grace, as you wait for him.