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“Who’s Coming? What’s It Matter?”

Nov.25/12 Mk.13:24-32


It’s the last Sunday in November. Christians celebrate “Christ the King Sunday” as we honour Jesus’ Lordship over the whole universe. Next week with the beginning of Advent the Church year focuses on anticipating His Second Coming, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, our annual celebration of His first Coming in human form as a child.
    But these are not what tops the list for many people, who in today’s materialistic society are more focused on earthly treasures. “Black Friday” is what American retailers anticipate most at the end of November – the post-Thanksgiving sales which traditionally turn their books from red ink to black. It’s ironic that Black Friday comes on the heels of what’s supposed to be a day of Thanksgiving for all we already have! And it’s creeping earlier and earlier, and wider geographically – now Canadian retailers have adopted “Black Friday” sales in an attempt to keep their customers from crossing the border. But for those who trust in Christ, the siren call of the ads should trigger us to re-examine our values and what we expect can give us true fulfilment in life – lest we squander the resources God has entrusted to us, and find our heart be captivated by things that perish.
    One day the preacher came over to visit unexpectedly. Wanting to make a good impression, the lady of the house instructed her little daughter, “Please run and get that good book we all love so much and bring it here.” The daughter tottered off and a minute later returned with triumph on her face and the Sears catalogue in her hands!
    In Mark 13, the disciples risk becoming impressed and enamoured with the costly and magnificent buildings around Herod’s temple complex. Jesus points ahead to a time when all that will be undone, and even further to the time of His own coming in glory. That has major implications for how we live in the meantime.


Jesus’ prediction of future hardships awaiting believers stands in stark contrast to the impressive scenery in Jerusalem which cause the disciples at the beginning of Mark 13 to exclaim at the massive white stones in the buildings they were touring. “Horror” is a word that stands out in the New Living Translation (1996 version): v8, “All this will be only the beginning of the horrors to come.” V19 “Those will be days of greater horror than at any time since God created the world.” V24 “After those horrible days end...” NIV in these verses uses terms such as “the beginning of birth pangs”; “days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now”; and “following that distress...” The word “distress” echoes Daniel 12:1,  “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.But at that time your people— everyone whose name is found written in the book— will be delivered.”
    “Horror” is a strong word, with dreadful connotations. A month ago we talked about “horror movies” and the danger of letting our hearts get desensitized by graphic violence. Regarding the end times, some churches may get unhealthily obsessed with the “horrible” details and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to sort out a timeline of the tribulation. Let’s not develop a macabre fascination with end-time prophecies to the point that we lose focus on what God’s calling us to be about today!
    Commentator David McKenna summarizes vv9-13 by five headings: persecution by the Jews; witness to the Gentiles; filling of the Spirit; betrayal by families; and hatred from the public. Certainly it is horrible, very difficult, when following Christ brings one into conflict with one’s own family - v12, a father betraying his child, children rebelling against their parents and having them put to death. When a person is “born again” in Jesus by the power of the Spirit and has a relationship with a new Heavenly Father, that can seem crazy to non-believing relatives, and your commitment to obedience and holiness may come across as judgmental to them. So you are rejected, perhaps even scorned or shunned. Jesus says in v13,  “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Hatred from family members can be hard. Jesus urges you, “hang in there!”
    These “horrible” times in vv14-23 will be marked by religious abominations (v14), as when Zealots in AD67-68 occupied the Temple, murdered Jewish relatives, and piled up the dead in the Holy of Holies, then as a ceremonial farce installed a clown named Phanni as chief priest. In AD 40 Emperor Caligula ordered a statue of his image to be built on the altar of burnt offerings for worship by the Jews. Jesus is probably also pointing beyond these to an event still in the future to us but similar in character, i.e.the Antichrist’s ultimate desecration when he sets up an image of himself in the temple during the Tribulation (2Thess 2:4). V22 also refers to false Christs and false prophets performing deceptive signs and miracles: when watching religious stars on TV or the internet we need to keep our Biblical truth-grid and Holy-Spirit-radar active, screening what’s being presented. Are glory and honour being directed to Jesus, or more to the speaker?
    Enough about the days of “horror”; as I say, churches can develop an unhealthy fascination or obsession with end-time details. That’s not Jesus’ emphasis! He moves on to the main event. V24, “FOLLOWING that distress – ‘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.” After the HORROR will come the GLORY. And it’s announced by a cosmic shakeup - sun and moon darkened, stars falling from the sky, powers in the heavens shaken. The old order is undone. This is beyond scientific description, as it seems the very laws of nature we take for granted may be suspended! For what keeps protons and electrons charged and bodies attracting (what we conventionally label ‘the law of gravity’) but God the Creator’s sovereign grace?
    Psalm 102:26,  “[The earth and heavens] will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.” What’s driving shoppers on Black Friday to buy new clothes? The same force that’s winding down the universe – entropy, things “wear out”. Isaiah 13:13,  “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.” 2Peter 3:10,12:  “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare...That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.” We’re talking about some kind of cosmic melt-down here! Rev 6:13-14,  “the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.” Scientists speak of the universe’s “dimensions”, the space-time continuum; the Bible implies all that can change like a book closing, or a scroll being rolled up. End of that story - now back to the larger picture! Or as someone has observed, when the Author walks onto the stage, you know the play is over.
    Does your worldview include the “book-ends” of the Creation (as in Genesis) and Judgment (as in Revelation)? That’s not the view that gets taught in a secular classroom. Don’t let your mindset / your worldview be hijacked by purely secular teaching and books and videos that ignore what the Bible says. Secularism suggests we’re just chaotic random bits of matter colliding and competing for as many breaths and pleasures as we can grab before we pointlessly expire. By contrast, the Biblical framework imbues everything we say and do with value, with meaning - there IS a supreme reference point called The Day of Judgment. Jesus cautioned in Matthew 12:36,  “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”
    The GLORY flows to Jesus. V26,  “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Jesus’ language here harks back all the way to Daniel 7:13,  “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” Paul wrote to the Thessalonians,  “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1Thess 4:16) Note the 3 audible factors vouching for the authority and significance of the moment, announcing it unmistakably: loud command, archangel’s shout, God’s trumpet call. The King is arriving! He will be even more beautiful, dazzling, and radiant than the disciples saw Him on the Mount of Transfiguration, or after the Resurrection, or in John’s vision in Revelation 1(13-16) where “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance”.
    So the days of HORROR will come, then the GLORIOUS SON will come; then the Elect or Chosen will come to Him. V27,  “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.” The lexicon explains “elect” as coming from the Greek verb “to pick out, to choose”; “of God the Father choosing Christians, as those whom he set apart from the irreligious multitude as dear unto himself, and whom he has rendered, through faith in Christ, citizens in the Messianic kingdom: (Jas 2:5) so that the ground of the choice lies in Christ and his merits only.” Other passages emphasizing God’s free and sovereign choice of undeserving sinners are Romans 8:29f and Ephesians 1:4f. Salvation is never something we can boast about as if it happened by our own doing or as if we deserved it; it’s all by a loving and merciful God’s grace, put into play by Jesus coming to earth and bearing the penalty for our sinful choices.
    The Son sends His angels, His messengers or spirit-agents, to gather His chosen ones: Jesus is coming - for YOU! The best things in life are not in this life alone but in an eternal relationship with Christ which starts when we believe and trust Him and commit to Him, and goes on forever! Paul expressed our hope this way:  “...the dead in Christ will rise first.After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1Th 4:17) Such hope and anticipation that affords us! Especially if we’ve had loved ones who’ve died believing - this is a very precious promise.


So much for great doctrinal truth. “So what?” Bring it back to ground level – what’s that mean for us in everyday life? What’s the applicable lesson to learn? As Jesus uses the term in v28, “learn this lesson”, literally “do the math”: what are we getting at?
    One lesson is - Don’t idolize the ephemeral. This world is passing away, it has an “expiry date”. You know how when you’re buying bread or eggs or yogourt or packaged coleslaw you check the expiry date, because you don’t want to get stuck with an old batch? Tombstones list people’s “expiry dates”; you have an expiry date too, though you don’t know it yet. And in fact the universe, which seems to us so old and solid and real and permanent, has an expiry date, too. It’s not going to last. V25 the stars will fall, the heavenly bodies (literally powers) will be shaken, thoroughly agitated, even overthrown as in a “shake down”. V31 Jesus says,  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The cosmos will pass away - expire - but not Jesus’ words. They’re what’s really real, what remains forever, ultimate truth.
    So don’t idolize the ephemeral; don’t cling so tightly to your possessions that it’s a struggle when God pries them out of your fingers. You don’t have to go crazy about Black Friday sales or deals. As the saying goes, “Live simply so others may simply live.” Cultivate generosity.
    An American tourist visited the 19th-century Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim. Astonished to see that the rabbi’s home was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and a bench, the tourist asked, “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” The rabbi replied, “Where is yours?” “Mine?” asked the puzzled American.“But I’m a visitor here.I’m only passing through.” Whereupon the rabbi said, “So am I.”


A second take-home here is that we can prioritize Him who is central. Don’t get side-tracked or hypnotized by what’s ephemeral, what doesn’t last; get to know Jesus who is central and eternal. He’s the Son of Man who’s coming (v26); His words will never pass away (v31); v11, He speaks to us already by the Holy Spirit; vv23/33/37, “Be on your guard / be alert / Watch!” Are you spending time each day getting to know Him - reading your Bible, sharing and listening to Him in prayer, fellowshipping with others who are “in Christ” through church and small groups? Is your focus on Him, or do you care more about the stock market or the latest fashions, what others are pinning on Pinterest?
    When Jesus calls us to “Watch” for Him, to be alert and on our guard, that’s an active watching. After days at sea, the skipper of a fishing boat was bringing his craft back home to the Scottish fishing village. As the boat neared the shore, the men gazed eagerly toward the dock, where a group of their loved ones was 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. Upon arrival, 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!” With unconcealable disappointment he replied, “Aye, but the other men’s wives were watching for them.”


The final application I see here is that we can harmonize our actions with His instructions. While we are watching for Him, don’t be entranced with what’s ephemeral; don’t get sidetracked by trying to pin down prophetic fulfilment and end-time timelines - because as v32 reminds us, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” But while we’re watching, get busy and put into action what He HAS clearly revealed already in His teaching. V34 Jesus used the analogy of a man going away, leaving the servants in charge, each with his assigned task; the doorman is told to keep watch. V36, “Don’t let him find you sleeping!”
    What’s your personal assignment from Jesus? Are you developing the gifts He’s given you, as a witness for Him? Or are you sleeping, pursuing worldly assets or entertainments, frittering away time on Facebook? (Some of us need time limits!)
    What about our church - is it actively watching, carrying out the assigned task of the Great Commission - or are we snoozing, mesmerized by our Powerpoint presentations and swaying to our contemporary music? Recently Francis Chan and David Platt held “Multiply” web events. David Platt told about Bihar in India, a state in India about the size of Tennessee with a population of 100 million. Each day about 5000 people in that region die, and since the Christian segment is only 0.1%, about 4995 of those 5000 people that die each day go to hell. Do we care about that? Are we in the North American church asleep? Does it say something grave about the condition of our heart if we find we don’t really care about that?
    This time of year brings up lots of opportunities to share God’s love concretely locally, such as through food banks, the Christmas Bureau, Salvation Army, etc. Can we allow the Holy Spirit to re-direct some of our Black Friday hankerings to provide for underprivileged neighbours? The New Testament commands us “to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1Tim 6:18)
    While we await the Master’s return, let’s actively watch. Let’s harmonize our actions with His instructions. A husband and wife were discussing the possibility of taking a trip to the Holy Land. The man enthused, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic to go to the Holy Land and stand and shout the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai?” But his wife replied, “It would be better if we stayed home and kept them.”  Let’s pray.