Summary: This sermon encourages us to watch, to wait, to be alert, to be on our guard, and not to worry. This is an encouragement to remember and believe that Jesus will indeed return with great power and glory, and to remember it whatever our current circumstance
If I were to hand out confidential voting papers on which you can vote either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, I wonder what the results would be …(long pause).
You want to know what the question is, don’t you! It’s this: Will Jesus return? Is He coming back? Yes or no.
Mark chapter 13 is not easy to understand, and I do not claim to understand it fully. However, the words of Jesus in chapter 13 tell us very clearly about the time leading up to his return, even if some of the details are difficult to make complete sense of.
Jesus and his disciples are leaving the Temple (13:1). A conversation begins, initially concerning the might and the splendour of the Temple buildings. “Look teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” Sadly, my mischievous mind is hearing words like, “Grandmother, what big eyes you’ve got!”
The Jewish Historian Josephus tells us that the Temple at the time of Jesus was a Wonder of the World. Some of its stones were 40 feet long, 12 feet high and 18 feet wide. The front of the temple was covered in plates of gold. When the sun rose the plates reflected back a fiery splendour, so fierce that people were forced to turn their eyes away, just as we are when faced with the sun in our eyes. It was a truly amazing sight.
Jesus’ reply is that every stone of that magnificent Temple will be thrown down. The building symbolising the pride of the nation is going to be destroyed; and indeed it was destroyed around 70AD by the Romans; but when Jesus spoke these words around 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, he gave no dates. What he did give were warnings about future persecutions, warnings about false teachers, and encouragements to watch and wait for the Son of Man to come with great power and glory (13:26).
These words of Jesus come just a few days before his crucifixion. There is a sense here of Jesus preparing his disciples. Good Friday was to be a bleak, bloody, bereavement experience for the disciples. Easter Sunday was to be a day of joy and jubilation in their journey of faith, but after Jesus ascended into heaven, and even after the gift of the Holy Spirit, awful days of persecution were to come before the return of the Son of Man. I wonder where you are today in your journey of faith in Jesus?
There was a sense of preparation in Jesus’ words because he is talking about a variety of things to come, many of which Christians are experiencing today. Muslim converts to Christ often know exactly what it means for a brother to betray his brother to death and a father his child (13:12).
Mark 13 calls us to have a long term, even eternal view, of events on earth; and not a short-term view.
So, how can we turn our attention to the long term, and avoid getting too focused upon the short term?
During the whole of the chapter Jesus issues clear advice about how we should react to events, so as to help us keep a long-term perspective. (13:5), “Watch out that no-one deceives you.” In other words take care not to be fooled by false teachings, and there are false teachings at work in the national church today. (13:7), “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed.” Wars are awful. They are horrible; but they must not draw us into thinking that God has withdrawn from his world. The Son of Man will return with great power and glory (13:26); and he will send his angels and gather his elect from the ends of the earth (13:27).
Later in the chapter are calls to be steadfast in our faith: Jesus says “Do not worry beforehand about what to say” (v11); and “Stand firm to the end” (v13).
So when our circumstances shift from comfort to discomfort; when our world moves from certainty to uncertainty; and when perhaps even friends and family turn against us, these are not reasons to reject God or to cease to believe in him. They are the opposite. They are times to remind ourselves that Jesus predicted these events. They are times to stand firm.
Another theme running through the whole chapter is that of being alert and watchful. Verse 5 “watch out”, verses 9 and 23, “be on your guard”, verse 33, “be on guard, be alert”, and verses 35 and 37, “keep watch”.
Will Jesus return? Is He coming back? He said he will! He is coming back. It won’t be like the return of Doctor Who and not even like the Return of Superman, but Jesus is coming back. Before that day, he’s told us what to expect. Jesus calls us to be alert, and not to worry even if circumstances are awful.