Summary: Instead of living in the future, God wants us to live in the now in light of the future.
During the first Gulf War in 1990 and 1991 I noticed that many pastors in our communities changed their preaching during the conflict. No matter what they’d been preaching about prior to the conflict, it seemed like pastors throughout our nation decided that the conflict in Iraq would be a great time to preach about end times Bible prophecy. I especially noticed this on a local Christian radio station, as it seemed like every radio preacher was preaching about Babylon, the second coming of Jesus Christ and the battle of Armageddon.
I’ve since learned that times of war are like that. Because we feel so unsettled during times of war, many Christians find it difficult to resist the temptation to speculate about the significance of the war as it relates to biblical prophecy and the end of the age. This has been true of Christians of every generation going back 2,000 years. When World War I broke out, a Christian leader named C. I Scofield speculated that it was the start of Armageddon (Kyle, The Last Days Are Here Again p. 103). Many Christians said the same thing during World War II. In fact, identifying the "antichrist" and predicting the battle of Armageddon has become an American obsession, especially during times of war. And I’m sure that if our conflict in Iraq drags on for more than a couple of weeks, we’ll see the same thing happening.
Now I have mixed feelings about this trend. On the one hand I think it’s good for Christians to look forward to Jesus Christ’s second coming. He certainly promised to return again to this earth some day, and times of crisis remind us of his promise. It’s good for us to live our lives in light of that hope. Looking forward to Christ’s second coming gives us hope in the midst of despair, resolve in the midst of discouragement.
But on the other hand, living our lives too far into the future can lead us to neglect life in the now. You see, there’s a big difference between living our lives today in light of Christ’s second coming, and living our lives totally focused on the future.
Now we’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Mark called following Jesus in the Real World. In this series we’ve been learning how to live as disciples of Jesus in our world today. The last few weeks we’ve been looking at the events of what Christians call holy week. It all started on Palm Sunday with Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a colt. We’ll be celebrating Palm Sunday in just two weeks, as we remember Jesus riding into the city of Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful king. Palm Sunday launches the start of holy week.
On his way to the Jewish temple the next day, Jesus cursed a fig tree because it failed to produce any figs. I suggested that when Jesus cursed of the barren fig tree he was symbolically pronouncing a statement of judgment on the Jewish temple. The barren fig tree was a symbol of the Jewish temple. Just as the fig tree had leaves but no figs, the temple was impressive looking from a distance but it wasn’t producing the fruit of a godly living among the people of Israel.
Once reaching the temple, Jesus caused a scene by overturning the tables of the money changers and caused the sacrifices to stop for a brief moment. I suggested that Jesus wasn’t cleansing the temple, but he was symbolically judging the temple. Just as the fig tree was cursed from the roots up for its barrenness, so also the temple was judged for its spiritual barrenness. The temple had outlived its usefulness, and now Jesus himself was the place to find forgiveness of sins.
The next day the religious leaders in the temple confronted Jesus, as they demanded to know where Jesus got his authority to make a scene in the temple. This leads to a series of debates with various groups of religious leaders, and in each debate Jesus comes out on top. We looked at two of those debates last week, the debate over whether Jews should pay Roman taxes and the debate over which of God’s command was the greatest.
Now you might notice that the common thread in these various events from chapter 11 on has been the temple. Today we’re going to start chapter 13 of Mark, where Jesus continues talking about the impending doom of the Jewish temple. In fact, I almost titled today’s message "Jesus Christ and the Temple of Doom." We’re going to see how we can live in the now.
1. The Sermon On the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:1-13)
Today we come to Jesus Christ’s sermon on the Mount of Olives. Today we’re going to look at the first half of this sermon in vv. 1-13, and then next week at the second half of the sermon. This is the longest teaching block in all of Mark’s story, which tells us that it’s pretty important.