It has been so fun to watch weather forecasts this week.
As meteorologists saw a storm forming and headed our way, they began predicting a massive snowfall that was going to start early Sunday morning.
Things seem to be going from bad to worse all over the place, so it is only a matter of time before this all blows up in our face, right?
Throughout the week, the timing has shifted and the amounts have shifted, and it has been hard to keep up with.
One forecast says we won’t get anything while another says that we will have the biggest snow event of the year.
It highlights one main truth for us: We are still really bad at predicting the future.
For all our advances in technology and the incredible amount of data we have collected on how the world works, we still can’t tell with 100% certainty whether or not it is going to snow today.
It reminds me of something my great grandfather used to say. It was profound in it’s simplicity: there isn’t any point in worrying about the weather because there isn’t anything you can do about it anyway.
That doesn’t stop us, does it? We want to be able to know days in advance whether or not we have to go stock up on supplies for our milk sandwiches.
It isn’t just the weather, though, is it?
At times, we can become unhealthily obsessed with worrying about the future. We worry about our school and our jobs and our kids and our health and wish we could have a crystal ball that told us exactly what was going to happen.
We see everything going haywire in the world around us, and we wonder if this is the end of the world or how much longer until Jesus comes back.
It’s that ultimate obsession about the future that we want to address this morning.
We want to take a quick look at what the Bible says about the end of the world.
For some of you, you just got really excited, because you love to talk about this. You spend hours trying to figure out the exact nuances of the “whos” and “whens” and “wheres”. You are hoping for me to set the record straight and lay it all out this morning so you can see whether I have it as right as you do.
Others of you just rolled your eyes, because you are so sick and tired of hearing about this person being the anti-Christ or the 88 reasons Jesus is coming back in 1988 or the Mayan calendar or whatever you have heard, so you would rather not talk about it.
Wherever you are on the spectrum, I want to set the record straight: I am not going to lay out a precise timeline of the end times.
Instead, what we are going to do is look together at what Jesus told his disciples about the end of the world, and we are going to draw out two main concepts.
In some ways, trying to figure out exactly what the end of the world will look like, especially from this chapter in Mark, is like worrying about the weather — you can’t change any of it, so what can you do?
As Jesus discusses the last days of earth as we know it, we are going to find out that there is one thing we can do: stay alert.
In fact, if you catch nothing else from this morning’s message, let it be this: Be on guard until Jesus returns.
Whatever your view of how it is all going to play out, we can see clearly from that Jesus tells us to stay on guard until he gets back.
We are in the last few days of Jesus’ life on earth, now.
He has been teaching in the Temple and fighting with the religious leaders.
They are now so frustrated that they are looking for a way to kill him.
Throughout these discussions, Jesus has been teaching us how we are to live and behave, with him at the center of who we are, loving him with everything we have, even down to the last pennies we have.
In the middle of all this, he has also been teaching that God is rejecting the Jews as they reject Jesus, who was the Messiah, the one God sent to rescue them.
It’s into that context that we start this morning.
Let’s see how this discussion got started.
Read with me.
The Jews were really proud of their Temple.
After all, it was the only real temple of the one true God.
This wasn’t the original one, but Herod had rebuilt it and made it incredibly impressive.
According to Josephus, a historian around that time, some of the stones were 37’ long, 12’ high, and 18’ wide. [Mark (NAC)]
This temple was the symbol of their national identity. It represented their unique relationship and standing before God.
When Jesus says that it is going to be destroyed, all the disciples can think is that the destruction of the temple was going to begin the end of the world.
As Jesus answers their question, he uses a technique that was used by many Old Testament prophets.
He weaves together prophecies about both the end of time and the destruction of Jerusalem, although they are two separate events.
The temple was destroyed in 70AD, and we are still waiting on Jesus’ return.
Weaving the two together makes it somewhat challenging to interpret, so why would God do that?
Because his purpose in telling us about the last days before his return wasn’t to give us an outline of events, it was to help us stay alert and ready.
This morning, that’s what we are looking for in this passage: what are we supposed to do while we wait?
In this chapter, Jesus gives us at least two different warnings as we wait for his return.
The first warning Jesus gives is...
In fact, that summarizes the key idea of the passage: Be on guard until Jesus returns.
So what are we watching out for? The four times Jesus tells us to be on guard help us to see four different warnings this morning.
We are going to use those to give us four warnings this morning.
The first warning Jesus gives is...
1) Don’t be deceived.
1) Don’t be deceived.
Throughout his statements in this chapter, Jesus makes it very clear that people will be confused about what will and won’t mark the last days before Jesus’ return.
2) Watch out for persecution.
2) Watch out for persecution.
He wants to make very clear to them that the destruction of Jerusalem, which they will see in their lifetime, isn’t necessarily the start to the end of the world.
That’s why he starts off his response in verse 5 with the reminder that we are not to let anyone deceive us.
3) Watch out for difficulty.
3) Watch out for difficulty.
As he explains this, Jesus gives us at least four false signs that could trip up his followers then and now.
First, he warns that people would claim to be the Messiah, the one sent from God to save the world.
Not only that, but he seems to indicate that many would speak up, saying that they represented him.
Haven’t we seen that in our day?
It doesn’t take much time of looking through the internet to find people who claim to speak for God, but whose teaching doesn’t line up at all with what Jesus said.
That has happened since Jesus went back to heaven after his resurrection, but it seems to be getting worse and worse.
With the rise of the internet, now anyone can have a platform and a voice. We are barraged by so much information that we seem to be losing an ability to discern truth from error.
So, does that mean that this is a direct indication that Jesus is coming back soon?
Unfortunately, not necessarily.
However, like everything else we will see, we can see that this means God knows exactly what is taking place.
He warned us that false messiahs and false teachers would rise up, so we shouldn’t be surprised.
Not only that, but we shouldn’t be deceived by the wars we see and hear about.
Look at verse 7-8.
Jesus obviously had in mind the coming war with Rome, because that was going to have a dramatic impact on these men.
He didn’t want them to think that they were guaranteed that Jesus was returning just because the Roman army was marching against Jerusalem.
In the same way, global unrest is guaranteed until Jesus comes back.
Don’t be surprised when you hear about wars, because Jesus said that would all be part of life until he returns.
Did you see that? Look at verse 8 again--”These things must take place...”
That doesn’t mean we rejoice in war or encourage it unnecessarily. It simply acknowledges that wars are going to happen.
The same is true of the next false sign: natural disasters.
Be cautious when you hear someone saying that this hurricane or that earthquake is an indication that Jesus is coming back soon.
Again, these things are going to happen until Jesus comes back and removes the stain of sin from the whole earth.
Here’s how the Apostle Paul describes what is happening
For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.
Every hurricane, every tornado, every famine, every debilitating storm you see is a reminder that all the earth was impacted by our sin, and that the entire world is waiting for Jesus to come back.
You see, that’s the problem: sin. Sin is when we follow our plans and our dreams and our desires in ways that go against who God is and apart from him.
The Bible says that when the first man and woman chose to sin, it brought death into the world. We died spiritually immediately, and death physically followed later.
Not only that, but because we chose to break God’s law, even the world itself and everything in it was thrown off and is corrupted by sin.
That’s why we have disease and disasters today, because sin has brought death into the world God created.
That’s why Jesus came: to deliver us from sin and reverse the power of death.
He showed that he is able to defeat death when he rose from the dead, and when he comes back, he is going to finally and fully remove every trace of sin.
Our hope in his return, then, is that those of us who have put our trust in him can experience freedom from the condemnation of our sin and we are enabled to live the life he has called us to live.
That doesn’t mean we won’t get sick or be impacted by floods and famines, but we have the hope that one day, he is going to take all that away.
We can’t look at a natural disaster and see that there is some direct sin that caused it, and they don’t necessarily mean that Jesus is coming back right now.
No individual storm or cluster of disasters is a direct indicator that Jesus is coming back today!
They should awaken us to the damaging effects of sin and should make us long for the day when Jesus comes to set it all right, but these things will happen until he returns.
Jesus then makes it more personal. The first three false signs—messiahs, wars, and natural disasters—were all external things happening to other people.
However, Jesus knew that the disciples would be temped to think his return was happening if they endured personal difficulty in the form of persecution.
That’s what he was warning about in verses 9-13.
Families would turn against each other because of Jesus, and the disciples to whom he was speaking were going to be arrested and tried for their faith, but none of that was a direct indicator that Jesus was coming back.
By the way, persecution is still ongoing today.
There is an organization called Voice of the Martyrs who are working with persecuted Christians from around the world.
On March 8, they posted this about a group of believers in the country of Laos:
Four Christians were arrested recently after 16 villagers came to know Christ as a result of their teaching. The Christians were from a community that VOM helped two years ago when they were evicted from their village for refusing to give up their faith. They are charged with spreading a foreign religion that goes against the country’s traditional beliefs. Pray that the four believers will remain firm in their faith. Pray that their families and the rest of their community will continue to follow Christ and share his love among the lost in their district. (http://www.icommittopray.com/request/1683/christians%2Darrested%2Dfor%2Dteaching/)
So, does that mean that Jesus is coming back right now?
Shouldn’t he stop people from hurting his followers?
As hard as it is to believe, persecution is not necessarily a sign that Jesus is about to return.
I understand that you and I may not agree with each other fully on this, but look at what Jesus is saying: These things have to take place before he is going to return.
They don’t guarantee that he is on the verge of coming back, so be very cautious when you hear people on TV or on the radio telling you that this or that means Jesus is for sure coming back soon.
Yes, sin keeps getting worse, and yes, things are hard in many places around the world.
However, keep in mind that none of us are God! We are not wise enough to make hard and fast predictions about Jesus’ return!
So, then, does that mean we don’t have to think about him coming back anytime soon?
Not at all. That’s the other part of this passage.
We are warned not to get tripped up by signs that may not mean what we think they do, but that should never drive us to complacency.
In fact, Jesus commands the exact opposite.
So, instead of looking for a sign,
2) Watch out for Jesus.
2) Watch out for Jesus.
That’s the main point of this chapter.
Just because we can’t pinpoint exactly what is going on doesn’t mean we don’t know how it ends: Jesus is coming back.
As Dr. Adrian Rogers used to say, “Write it down plain, tall, and straight.”
Look with me at verse 24-27...
The Bible is crystal clear: Jesus is coming back for his people.
Instead of trying to trace a timeline, why not spend your days making sure you and everyone you know is ready for him to return?
Jesus could come back at any point in time. He could come back before I finish this message, and man, that’s how I would love to go out.
Why? Because I want to be found working when he comes.
Jump down to verses 32-37...
We don’t know when he is coming back, but we do know he is.
Let me ask you: are you living in such a way that, if Jesus came back right now, you would be proud to stand before him?
If not, why not? What needs to change?
Maybe that’s too easy a question, since you’re sitting here in church on a Sunday morning. What about last night at 8:30 or 11:15? Would you be proud for Jesus to have come in while you were on that website or watching that movie?
For one, he knows it anyway, so if you shouldn’t be doing it, you shouldn’t be doing it.
Instead, we should be living like he is coming back at any time, because he could!
We have the hope that Jesus is coming back one day to rescue us from sin and selfishness and take us to be with him forever and will one day wipe every tear from every eye for those who are with him forever.
Live like it! Let that change the way you talk to your wife and your kids. Let it change the way you go to work tomorrow. Let it shape your plans for the future, making sure you are being faithful to walk with him every step of every single day.
Don’t just sit on your couch posting away on Facebook, waiting for Jesus to come back. Work hard for him! Help as many people as you can come to know Jesus and walk with him.
There are going to be false teachers, wars, disasters, and persecution until he comes, so stay on guard! Stay alert! Watch out, and don’t be deceived.
Instead, spend every moment living like He is coming back to get you any time.