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A Challenge of Faithfulness

Mark 13:1-13

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! 

2 And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 

3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,

4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?

5 And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:

6 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 

7 And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.

8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows. 

9 But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. 

10 And the gospel must first be published among all nations.

11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. 

12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.

13 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

Introduction

More than 30 years ago, when I was a student at Baylor University, there was a religious sect settled in that part of the country. They announced that on a given day the world would come to an end and Jesus would return. So they sold their possessions, their land, their houses, and they moved up on a high hill waiting for Jesus to come.

As a young college student, I can still remember the sense of anticipation and excitement that surrounded that day. Although I did not believe it, I could not get it out of my mind, and all of us had a little bit of anxiety as the day approached. We soon discovered that Jesus did not come back that day. The world did not come to an end. The classes met, the professors gave tests, and those who weren’t ready had another kind of tribulation. 

We learned then that men sometimes project their own ideas into scripture concerning the end of time and it is not always accurate. Since that time, in the last 30 years, scores of times I have heard of groups and read of groups that predicted when Jesus was going to come. They set the date and made all sorts of strange preparations, but still our Lord has not returned and the end has not come.

We are living in a time when people are unusually preoccupied with the second coming of Jesus. Books are written by the hundreds and by the millions are sold. Conferences dealing with the millennium, the end of the age, and the coming of Christ are held and they are well attended. In our churches there is an unusual interest in these events.

Sometimes this grows out of the deep despair that characterizes the lives of so many people. We manage by our own foolishness sometimes to get our lives boxed in so that we see no way out but up in the return of Jesus Christ. There are those who are enamored with studies of and books about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. International affairs do not help at all. There are wars and rumors of wars. We wonder where Russia will put its finger next on some raw nerve in the world and create another war or upheaval. We wonder how long détente can last. We wonder when we are going to settle all the negotiations concerning atomic arms, the Star Wars weapons, and all for that. And the uneasiness of international affairs causes us to have a greater concern perhaps than ever before about the second coming of Jesus Christ. 

Mark 13 was written for times like ours, and for people just like us. This 13th chapter of the gospel of Mark is one of the most difficult passages in all the Bible to interpret. At the same time, it is one of the most crucial for our understanding. And so we would do well to look at what our Lord has to say to us in a part of Mark 13 concerning the return of Christ and the end of the world. 

The passage begins with Jesus and his disciples leaving the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem. All day long Jesus has been in conflict and confrontation with the religious leaders of his day. They had approached him with crucial questions about paying taxes, about the greatest of all the commandments, and about the resurrection, hoping to embarrass Jesus. They were hoping to back him into a corner where he could not give an adequate answer or an answer that the people would not accept. They had failed in all those efforts. After that kind of day of hassling over doctrinal issues with people, Jesus and his disciples were ready to leave the Temple.

As they walked out of the Temple, those disciples called Jesus’ attention to the magnificence of that building. They said, “Lord, look around at what a beautiful and magnificent structure this house of worship is.” And Jesus shocked them by saying that not one stone of the building would be left upon another. It would be completely destroyed.

Some of those stones weighed as much as a hundred tons. And it was shocking news to hear that not one would be left on top of the other. What in the world could happen? What kind of cataclysmic upheaval could occur that would destroy the house of worship that meant so much to them? If that house of worship was destroyed, then the whole foundation for their society would be shaken. 

They walked away from that Temple and that shocking statement up to the top of the Mount of Olives. Many of you have been there. The Intercontinental Hotel is located on the top of the mountain and looks out across the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a beautiful and awesome sight. Jesus and his disciples were up there looking over the whole city and over the Temple in particular. With his recent statement in mind, they said to him, “Lord, when is all of this going to happen? Tell us when shall these things be.” In response to their question, Jesus gave to those disciples—and he gave to us—a clear word about the end of the world, and in particular, how to live in the meantime. We are most often interested in the end time. Jesus is most often interested in the meantime.

For example, in the book of Acts, they said to him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” And Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons. You are interested in the end time, that’s not for you to know. But here is what you are to know. You are to be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem and in Judea. And in Samaria. And unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” Our primary concern is not to be the end time but the meantime. The end time is in God’s hands. Nobody knows when it shall happen except the Father. That’s enough for me.  

But the meantime is a different story. I am persuaded that our Lord Jesus shall come back to reign and to rule over us, and while I am persuaded that the future belongs to him, that this will be one of the key events in the history of the world, our primary concern is not when it is going to happen, but what are we to do in the meantime. And so Jesus begins to teach his disciples what they are to do, how they are to live, and what this is to mean to their lives.

There are three key verses in the passage that I read a few moments ago and a couple of more verses to help us to see our duty, our responsibility. I want you to look at those three verses, and I’ll give you the outline of the sermon.

First, Mark 13:5: “Take heed lest any man deceive you.” The first word of instruction concerning the end time from our Lord is that you need to be informed. You need to know certain things so that you are not deceived by other people. Our first responsibility is to be informed.

Second, verse 10: “And the gospel must first be published among all nations.” He is talking about when the end is going to come. Before it ever happens, the Gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth. So we are not only to be informed in the meantime but also we are to be missionaries in the meantime. We are to be busy about hastening the coming of the Day of the Lord. The way we do that is by carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth for he will not come until the Gospel goes.

Third, verse 13: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” He is saying that we need to not only be informed and to be missionaries, but also we need to be faithful.

In response to the question of the disciples, “When shall these things be?” Jesus said, “What you need to be concerned about is your responsibility.” The future is in God’s hands. No one knows but God. But you be informed, and you be a missionary, and you be faithful, and whenever that time comes, you will be ready for the coming of our Lord.

1. You need to be informed.

Notice his first admonition—you need to be informed. Jesus was talking to people who were going to face some perilous times in the next few years. When he went away into heaven, there would be false teachers coming, announcing the dates of his return. Some would even be saying that they were Christ—that they had come again. There would be all sorts of wars and rumors of wars and things happening that might make these disciples think that the end was near. And so he said, “I want you to be careful lest you be deceived.” 

Then Jesus told them of some things that they should well expect to happen in the years that followed. He said, “There shall come people in my name saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they shall deceive many. And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, but be not troubled. Such things must be, but the end shall not be yet. All of these false christs and all of these wars and rumors of wars, they do not mean that the end is come yet. Nation shall rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be natural calamities, earthquakes, and famines, and all kinds of things like this. And these are the beginning of sorrows.” 

The first two verses of this passage in particular, and perhaps the whole passage, clearly reference the approaching destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of God. What Jesus predicted in A.D. 30 and what Mark recorded in A.D. 65 was fulfilled in the year of A.D. 70 when Titus and his Roman legion marched against the city of Jerusalem. And they began to destroy buildings and to slaughter the people until more than a million Jews had been killed as he completely devastated Jerusalem. Jesus knew that this was going to happen and that it was going to have such a tremendous shockwave upon the hearts and minds of people that they would think, “This is the end of the world.” And Jesus said, “I don’t want you to be misinformed. I do not want you to be misled. I want you to know that this is only the beginning of sorrows.”

That word sorrows in the original language actually means birth pangs. Jesus likened the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of God to the birth pangs of a woman. He was saying that in light of this cataclysmic upheaval, if you do not know what is going to happen and if you aren’t aware of the future events, you might interpret it as the end of the world. Out of that cataclysmic upheaval there is going to come a new day for the kingdom of God. 

You see, what we often interpret as the end is in reality the beginning. What we would call the death throes can be birth pangs. Jesus was saying that as a result of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, and as a result of the devastation of this beautiful Temple with all of these magnificent stones, this was going to issue forth a new day for the church. Christians will be driven out of necessity from Jerusalem and from Judea and from Samaria unto the uttermost parts of the earth, and they will carry with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Know what the future holds. Anticipate this as a coming event. Don’t think it is all over when that happens. It is all just beginning. And through that, you shall take the Gospel to the ends of the earth so that all men everywhere can hear and know and believe.

We need to understand that what is often interpreted as the end to us is the beginning with God. What we believe to be a defeat is in reality a victory in the spiritual realm so that God can use us in a greater and more wonderful way. And that is exactly what he did when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. It disbursed the church to the ends of the earth so that they could get on with the mission that God had for them to do.

2. You need to be a missionary.

It is a day of new beginnings. Jesus said you not only need to be informed so that you won’t be misled, you also need to be a missionary. “I want you to know this,” said Jesus, “that the Gospel must be proclaimed to the ends of the earth before the end shall come.” Now with that, Jesus gave us our responsibility. He assigned us our agenda until he comes again: our primary responsibility as a church and as individuals is to preach the Gospel, starting right where we are. We are to go unto the ends of the earth and to stay everlastingly at it until Jesus comes again. The only justification for anything that we do here, any building that we build, any expenditure that we put out, is that we might remain a missionary church and keep at it until Jesus comes back to this earth again. God is up to some wonderful things if we will just be faithful and true to him.

This past week I had the opportunity to spend some time with Harrell Cushing, a fellow pastor, who is the chairman of the Foreign Mission Board of the SBC. He told us what God is doing in China. He has firsthand information as a result of his position in our convention. Thirty years ago, our missionaries were driven out of China. That had long been one of our great mission fields. We had gone first to China to preach, and to evangelize, and to establish a great work. When the Communists took over at the end of World War II, our missionaries were driven out and for 30 years the doors to China had been closed. But now with a new regime they are beginning to open up again to new missionary efforts. Not missionary efforts as we have always understood them and interpreted them, but new opportunities to the Gospel. 

He said, “A couple of years ago, the Communist government wrote to our State Department and said, ‘Would you send us 300 teachers to teach in the schools of China?’ So we sent those teachers, and they wrote back this year and renewed that request saying, ‘We want 300 more teachers, but this time send us Christian teachers.’” 

The reason is they have learned that the Christian teachers are the best teachers. He said there is a strong possibility that in the near future China will open up its oilfields and its production to American industry and as many as 10,000 American oilmen will flood into that country. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were Christian men who were not there to drink their liquor, to chase their women, and to denigrate their culture, but they went there in the name and in the spirit of Jesus Christ to preach, teach, and win those people to Jesus Christ? 

Harrell said, “In one of their official documents that came to our Foreign Mission Board, the Communist leaders said, ‘All of our efforts to stamp out religion in China have failed.’ And in the past 30 years of persecution, Christians have more than doubled in China. There are still 2,000 churches. They estimate that as many as 50 million Christians are in China, and 25,000 to 50,000 house churches. New churches are being started at a rate of one per day. They don’t have complete religious freedom in China yet, but I want you to know that God is still at work. God is opening doors, and if we are faithful to carry the Gospel, God will be faithful to see that people are won to faith and trust in him.” 

Some years ago, the man who told me this story said he was a student at the seminary. And Dr. Glass, who taught at the seminary, had been one of our missionaries in China. After they had finished a missions class in which they talked about China, at its closing Harrell happened to meet Dr. Glass out on the campus and he said to him, “It must be so hard on you to see all of the work that you have done for Christ in China destroyed.” And Harrell said, “I shall never forget how Dr. Glass pulled himself up to his full six-foot-four inches and looked me squarely in the eye and said, ‘Young man, I will have you to understand that when Christ went to China he went to stay. And Christ has been there all the years when it was closed to us.’”

Let me tell you, somebody had to take the Gospel to China the first time. And the reason for our being here as a church is to carry the Gospel in this community, up and down the streets, among minority groups, the poor and the needy as well as the rich and the affluent. We are to carry it to anybody and to everybody. And we are not only to carry it here in this community, but to the uttermost parts of the earth. That is our responsibility and our mission. We are to be informed, but we are to be a missionary. The Gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth and then the end shall come. 

We are not only to be informed and to be a missionary, we are to be faithful at the task. 

3. You need to be faithful.

Look at what he says in verse 13: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” The Christian life is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Some of you entered the race a long time ago and have since dropped out, and now you are standing on the sidelines. Sometimes you cheer and sometimes you boo and sometimes you do nothing. You are not in the race. You are not involved in doing the work of God and fulfilling his mission. I am here to tell you that Jesus reminded us that the person who endures to the end shall be saved. And he is saying that our commitment to him is to be such that we are faithful and true to him so long as we live.

I’m moved every time I read about those Marines who were bombed in Beirut. Many of them killed. Many, many more wounded. Following that tragedy, General Kelly visited the hospital to give Purple Hearts to all of those wounded Marines. He went from first one hospital bed to another pinning that Purple Heart on those blue hospital uniforms. 

Finally he came to a young man named Corporal Jeffery Nashton of Jacksonville, N.C. The young boy had more tubes running in and out of him than you probably have ever seen on a patient before. Terribly wounded, he could not even speak. And the general leaned over to pin that Purple Heart on the shirt of that wounded Marine. And when he looked up into the eyes of his general he reached over by the side of his bed, picked up a notepad, and scribbled two words in Latin on it. The words were “semper fidelis,” the Latin words for the Marine motto, “always faithful.” And that’s what Jesus is saying he expects out of us. Come war, come persecution, come danger, come martyrdom, come death itself—always faithful, always at your post, always doing your duty enduring to the end.

Rather than telling us when the end would come, Jesus chose to say, “Don’t be deceived by all the things that are happening around. Remember what the agenda is. Carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth and stay everlastingly faithful to me until I come again.” 

If our Lord should choose to come today, would he find you faithful? Would he find you in some way involved in the great missionary agenda of his kingdom? If not, then you ought to get your life lined up with him here and now. There is no better time and there is no better place than this place and this day to make such a commitment. When shall it all happen? Jesus said the future is in God’s hands. He alone knows. That’s good enough for me. But I also have a responsibility until then and I must be about it, and so must you.

 

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Today's Devotional

Doubt Is a Big Disorder of Soul

Among all the disorders of the soul, none brings more distress than doubt. It can be a source of misery and discomfort, fill your life with anxieties and fears, and rob you of peace.

There are two kinds of religious doubt. One is sincere doubt; the other is insincere doubt. Some doubt is a cover-up for sin. Many people look on doubt as a badge of learning, and so they display skepticism in an effort to impress others that they are intellectual. Such doubt is but a cover for intellectual pride. All such pride is sin.

Sometimes doubt is a cover up for immorality. During World War II a serviceman on his way overseas called for an appointment with his minister. The young man immediately began to express his doubts about the Gospel as he sat before the minister. The pastor replied, “I’m not interested in your doubts, young man. Tell me about your sins.”

The soldier was startled and sat silently. “Do you have a picture of your family?” the preacher asked.

As the young man showed the minister pictures of his family, he began to sob. He confessed that he had sinned against his family and against God. When doubt is due to sin, there is but one solution—confess and forsake your sin. Then the doubt will be removed.

But some doubt is genuine and sincere. In such cases the person with the doubts should honestly seek the facts about Christianity. While governor of the territory of New Mexico, Lew Wallace set out to write a book to disprove Christ and show him up as a myth. To do this he had to read the gospels that recorded the life of Christ. It was also necessary for him to read the prophets that prophesied the coming of the Christ. In his serious study he met Christ face to face, was convinced of his sin, and was converted. Instead of writing a criticism of Jesus, he wrote the great religious novel Ben-Hur.

When doubts faced the facts, they fled. Do you face doubts and uncertainties about the Christian faith? Begin to study the Bible seriously, spend some time in prayer, and go to church this Sunday. Gradually faith will replace your doubts.

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