Sermon for Sunday April 18th, 2010

 


Living in the End Times by C. Philip Green

Mark 13:1-13:37

To start a discussion on core values, a youth pastor in Saskatchewan, Canada, asked his youth group: “What would you do if your doctor told you that you had only 24 hours to live?” The students talked about being with friends and family, and the discussion seemed headed in the right direction. But then, Jason, a 13-year-old student said “I’d get a second opinion.” (Donna Spratt, Melfort, Saskatchewan, “Lite Fare,” Christian Reader)

I like Jason’s answer the best, because distressing news always warrants a second opinion or another perspective. It helps us handle the situation wisely.

My friends, we are hearing a lot of distressing news these days, and many people are content just to pay attention to the news commentators and simply get a human perspective on things. As a result, they are stressed and distressed and often deceived.

But there is a second opinion available to the believer in Christ. It’s a divine perspective on world events that helps us not only survive, but thrive, in these dangerous times.

If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Mark 13, Mark 13, where Jesus, in one of his farewell addresses to his disciples, gives them (and us) a divine perspective on the difficult days that are ahead, especially as we near the end of this age.

Mark 13:1 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (NIV)

Now, this temple was built with huge, white boulders (taller than I am and nearly 10-12 feet wide). They were polished smooth and generously decorated with gold (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 15.11.3-7). Herod was building this as a lasting monument to himself while trying to win the hearts of the Jewish people. So this temple was massive, covering about 1/6 of the old city of Jerusalem. If anything spoke of permanence, Herod’s magnificent temple in Jerusalem did, and it greatly impressed Jesus’ disciples.

Mark 13:2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (NIV)

Such a thing was inconceivable in the Jewish mind unless it was the end of the world as we know it. So…

Mark 13:3-4 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

These disciples were really asking Jesus about when the end of the world (as we know it) would come & the signs preceding that end.

Now, the Bible in other places describes the end of the age as a 7-year tribulation period when terrible things will happen all over the world (Daniel 9:27; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3; 2 Thessalonians 2; Revelation 6-19). There will be huge, natural disasters, war and starvation everywhere, and a tyrant ruling the world before the end comes. So the disciples ask Jesus 2 questions about these end times: When will it happen, and what are the signs.

Well, Jesus answers those questions in reverse order. 1st, He talks about the signs of the end and warns us to…

BE AWARE.

To watch for the signs, to pay attention to the signals that mark the end of the age.

Mark 13:5-6 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many."

We’re to watch so we’re not deceived. & We’re to watch so we’re not distressed either.

Mark 13:7-8 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. (NIV)

Jesus says, watch for the signs of the beginning of the end. Just like a woman about to give birth, there will be some tremors or contractions to start with. False Christ’s will appear. Wars will increase & so will earthquakes and famines.

We were hit with the news of another earthquake in China this last week. That’s what?… the third major earthquake in just the last few months: 1st in Haiti, then in Chile, and now in China. The war on terror has elevated the incidents of war to a whole new level and people are starving even right here in the United States of America.

Yet there are a lot of politicians who claim to have the answer. Like “mini messiah’s” they promise to change things for the better and save the world.

But we who know Christ are not deceived, because He warned us about such false claims. & We are not distressed either, because we know these pains will only lead to the birth of a new Age. They are simply the contractions before the birth of Christ’s new kingdom, when He rules and reigns on this earth to usher in a new age of peace and prosperity.

You see, only Jesus has the answers to this world’s problems. & We who look to Christ are not going to be misled by the false promises of others in the meantime. We are not going to be deceived, and we are not going to be distressed even when we face persecution ourselves.

Mark 13:9-11 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. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 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. (NIV)

The arrest of Christians will lead to an opportunity for witness. Persecution will result in proclamation with the Holy Spirit’s help! Tertullian, a 2nd Century Christian and church leader, said to his persecutors, “The more you mow us down, the more numerous we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”

We see this happening in Iran today with the explosive growth of the Evangelical church. In 1984, Mehdi Dibaj, a former Muslim who later became a pastor, was arrested and jailed for 10 years. In prison, Iranian authorities tried to get him to convert back to Islam. They promised him freedom if he would sign a written statement recanting his Christian faith and affirming his return to Islam. When he refused, the authorities beat and tortured him, even putting him through mock executions. In 1988, under threats of stoning, his wife converted back to Islam, divorced him and married another man. Then Dibaj was offered freedom in exchange for an admission of mental instability. Dibaj refused.

Finally, on December 21, 1993, an Islamic court in the city of Sari condemned him to die for apostasy, but a fellow pastor, Bishop Haik, chairman of Iran’s Protestant Council, courageously sent an open letter to Western media publicizing Dibaj’s situation. Due to the world’s reaction, Rev. Dibaj was released on January 16, 1994, but Haik’s murdered body was found two weeks later with several stab wounds. Then, five months after his release from prison, Rev. Mehdi Dibadj himself met the same fate in June of that same year.

How did this affect the Christian church in Iran? Well, in 1977, before the Iranian Revolution, there were only 2,700 evangelicals in Iran out of a population of 45 million. Of those, only 300 were former Muslims. At last count (in 2002), there were close to 55 thousand believers, of whom 27 thousand were from Muslim backgrounds. (Michael G. Maudlin, “Have You Seen Jesus Lately?” Books & Culture, May/June 2002, p.14; www. farsinet.com/dibaj)

Since then, the growth of the Evangelical Church has exploded even more in Iran. According to Gary Lane, Chief International News Correspondent for CBN News, “The idea behind the Iranian Revolution (in 1979) was to establish the world’s first modern state governed solely by Islamic law. Ayatollah Khomeini believed a more prosperous society could be created if the Iranian people and their government adhered to tenets of the Koran. But 30 years into it, the revolution is faltering and many Iranians are disillusioned.

Todd Nettleton with Voice of The Martyrs says, “The people look around, they see the poverty, they see the discontent, they’re not happy so they have questions. Why isn’t it working out, we’re doing it the Islamic way, why isn’t our country great? So, they are ripe to hear a new way.”

As a result, the evangelical house church movement is now growing rapidly. “The church is exploding in terms of numbers, but it is coming with a price,” Nettleton says. “The people are arrested, they’re harassed, and they’re persecuted, in some cases they are beaten severely. It is not an easy pathway.” But even that cannot stop the rapid growth of the unregistered house churches in Iran.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so concerned that he has made it his aim to stop the house church movement, declaring: “I will stop Christianity in this country.” So starting in 2005, he launched an unmerciful crackdown against Iranian house churches, beating and arresting many of their leaders.

The house churches are now meeting in smaller groups and Nettleton said while Ahmadinejad is trying desperately to halt church growth, his crackdown is actually having an opposite affect because Christians are moving around more. “We see outreach of people traveling to other cities, they’re traveling to other parts of the country and they are in turn planting these little house churches in those cities and in those parts of the country as well.” (Gary Lane, “Iran’s Christian Revolution Gains Momentum,” CBN News, June 22, 2009; http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2009/June/Irans-Christian-Revolution-Gains-Momentum)

Believers don’t need to be distressed when trouble comes, because God uses it to create more opportunities for ministry. & There is a glorious future ahead for everyone who believes.

Mark 13:12-13 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (NIV)

Even though it gets to the point where the whole world hates us, God never will. He will save every one who still believes in the end. In other words, we who believe in Christ will experience the glories of heaven when it is all over.

Now, these words would have been a special encouragement to Mark’s Roman readers who were being severely persecuted for their allegiance to Jesus. I’m sure it helped them endure their suffering with a little more joy, knowing that God would use it to spread His Word and that He would vindicate them in the end.

You see, even if we should experience trouble today, we don’t need to worry, and we certainly shouldn’t give up our faith, because God will do the same thing for us.

Don’t be deceived, and don’t be distressed. Just watch for the signs of the beginning of the end.

Then watch for the signs of the middle of the end. The seven year tribulation at the end of this age starts with the birth pangs of war, hunger, and persecution. Then at the mid-point, 3˝ years into it, something terrible happens, which makes the suffering even worse.

Mark 13:14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong — let the reader understand — then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

This “abomination of desolation” is that which Daniel talked about at the end of Daniel 9. There, Daniel speaks of a “ruler who will come” who will establish a 7-year peace treaty in the Middle East. Now, we know from Revelation 11 that the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem by that time, perhaps as part of this 7-year peace treaty. But halfway through those seven years, this “ruler who will come” will break that treaty, stop the temple sacrifices, desecrate the temple itself, and proclaim himself to be God (2 Thes. 2:3-4).

Historically, we got a little picture of what that will look like when a Syrian ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, desecrated the Jewish temple in 167 B.C. At that time, he built an altar to the pagan, Greek god Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on it (Josephus The Antiquities of the Jews 12.5.4). 236 years later, the Roman Army overran the city of Jerusalem, desecrated the temple and totally destroyed it in 70 A.D. But these two events only foreshadow what a coming world ruler will do halfway through the time of the end.

This world ruler is none other than the Antichrist (also described in 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13). & Possessed by Satan himself, he will create a virtual hell on earth for those who are alive in those days.

That’s why they should flee, especially those who are in Judea at the time. When the Antichrist comes into Jerusalem, they will have to escape immediately, or else they will die.

Mark 13:15-20 Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. (NIV)

Even when evil is allowed to run rampant, God still limits it for the sake of His own people. Even during the Great Tribulation itself, God will not allow His own to be tested more than they can bear. So when trouble comes, don’t be distressed, and don’t be deceived.

Mark 13:21-23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. (NIV)

Jesus told us what will happen, so don’t be deceived. Instead, watch for the signs of the beginning of the end. Watch for the signs of the middle of the end.

And watch for the signs of the end of the end.

Mark 13:24-27 But in those days, following that distress – i.e., at the end of the tribulation – the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. (NIV)

At the end of this age, when everything is dark, Jesus Christ Himself will come in plain sight to all, and He will gather His own to Himself. Those believers who come to faith in Christ during the tribulation will be gathered together, and we believers, who go before, will join them to rule and reign with Christ in a new day and age on this earth (Revelation 20:1-6).

So whether you are going through minor tribulations today, or even the Great Tribulation itself, don’t be distressed, because Jesus is coming, and you will spend eternity with Him.

You will rule and reign with Christ, but only if you have trusted Him as your Savior. If you haven’t done it yet, I urge you, call on the Lord today. Look to the One who died for you and rose again, and ask Him to save you from your sins. The Bible says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Won’t you call on Him today? He’ll save you from your sins and give you the power to stand firm to the end. Then whether you live or die, He will gather you to Himself to be with Him forever!

Sandy and I went to visit Anna Cornell this last week at the Scandia Village nursing home. She was sitting in the dining room all by herself, eating her breakfast. As I watched her eat her oatmeal, I told her it reminded me of the story of a man who died and went to heaven. When he saw how wonderful it was, he said, “If I’d a known it was this good, I would have stopped eating oatmeal a long time ago!”

Oh, what a glorious day that will be! It sure helps us to endure the present, doesn’t it, when we know the future is worth it all.

Don Wyrtzen put it so well when he wrote: It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Him. One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrows will erase. So bravely run the race till we see Christ.

Don’t be distressed, and don’t be deceived. Just be aware. Just watch for the signs of the end.

Mark 13:28-31 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (NIV)

You can trust the Lord. His words will never fail. Things will happen just as He says they will.

On these fine, warm, spring days, Sandy and I are enjoying more walks outside. We’re watching the flowers bloom and the trees start to bud. Soon new leaves will appear on the trees, and that tells us summer is not far away.

So it is with the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus said, just like leaves appearing on a fig tree tell you that summer is near, so the signs he describes in this chapter tell you that His coming is near. The generation that sees those signs will not die out until all is completed.

Are we that generation?

We’re certainly seeing a great increase in earthquakes, wars, and hunger these days. We haven’t seen the “abomination of desolation” yet, but the stage is set for the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. They have all the materials ready to go, and the world is hungry for a world ruler to bring peace in the Middle East.

Who knows? We could be that generation that sees the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the age. So let’s watch for the signs. Don’t be deceived, and don’t be distressed. Just be aware. Then…

BE ALERT.

Stay awake and be ready, because no one know when it all will happen; no one knows the time.

The disciples had asked Jesus two questions in verse 4: When will the end come? & What are the signs? Jesus just described the signs of the end. Now, He’s going to tell us when?

Mark 13:32-37 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” – literally, stay awake!

Before He left, Jesus gave His followers an assignment: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). We all have a part in the proclamation of the Gospel around the world even if we’re not preachers. May Jesus find us busy doing what He assigned to us when He comes back.

Be aware of the signs, and be alert, because we don’t know the time. It could be today. If it were, are you ready?

Robby Robins was an Air Force pilot during the first Iraq war. After his 300th mission, he was surprised to be given permission to immediately pull his crew together and fly his plane home. They flew across the ocean to Massachusetts and then had a long drive to western Pennsylvania. They drove all night, and when his buddies dropped him off at his driveway just after sun-up, there was a big banner across the garage—“Welcome Home Dad!”

How did they know? No one had called, and the crew themselves hadn’t expected to leave so quickly. Robins relates, “When I walked into the house, the kids, about half dressed for school, screamed, ‘Daddy!’ Susan came running down the hall — she looked terrific — hair fixed, make-up on, and a crisp yellow dress. ‘How did you know?’ I asked.

“‘I didn’t,’ she answered through tears of joy. ‘Once we knew the war was over, we knew you’d be home one of these days. We knew you’d try to surprise us, so we were ready every day.’” (Lee Eclov, in the sermon, Heaven, www.PreachingToday.com)

My friends, let’s be ready every day for Christ’s return.