By Simon ManchesterSunday 24 Apr 2022Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 1 minute
A three-part series on Rediscovering Jesus by Simon Manchester of Hope 103.2’s Christian Growth podcast and pastor at All Saints in Woollahra, Sydney.
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Loving Father, we ask that you would save us this morning from blindness and dullness and that you would use your Word in your great love and power to illuminate us and to stir our wills. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We are returning to Mark’s gospel for a few weeks, praying urgently. There’ll be nobody in the congregation doing a PhD in Mark’s Gospel. We come to Chapter 13, which is a wonderful chapter, and it’s where Jesus puts the telescope out on the future, immediate and ultimate. And if we were to take the whole chapter, we might give it a title such as ‘Coping and Hoping’.
There are many views of Mark 13. I’ve tried to be aware of all the different views. It’s quite a complex chapter in some ways, and there are many people who have got many different ideas. I am persuaded myself that Jesus is equipping his disciples to be ready for the next decades leading up to the end of Jerusalem, and that he is equipping all disciples to be ready for life in this world leading up to the end of the world. So there are two stages in the chapter,
- The end of Jerusalem,
- The end of the world.
And it’s a wonderful chapter because many people are very short sighted, not only outside the church but inside the church. And it’s easy, isn’t it? You know this yourself to just be thinking about the trip that you’re going to take or the function that you’re going to go to or the job that you’re about to do somewhere. And you completely forget that there is a great and sovereign God who is sovereignly overruling all of the events of history and who has plans for the immediate and for the ultimate.
Now yesterday was the 2/100 birthday of Karl Marx, and I know he’s largely forgotten today and certainly discredited. But in a book called ‘Unimaginable’ by a man called Jeremiah Johnson, he imagines what the world would be like without the Christian faith. And he makes a little comment on Karl Marx, and the comment goes like this – he said “Marx had a goal. Marx had an end to which human history moves, and he knew this by faith; faith in mankind. He believed that heaven would be achieved on Earth, a new Garden of Eden, a paradise, and it would come through economic revolution, replacing white collar power with blue collar power. This would solve humanity’s problems.”
And the short paragraph goes on to say. “But it has failed everywhere and today a rare communist country like Cuba is on life support. There is a man who, projecting into the future, eliminated the idea of God, and nothing has worked.”
Now, in Mark, Chapter 13, Jesus speaks as the Son of God, and he speaks with great accuracy. He got right the fall of Jerusalem as he spoke ahead, and we can be assured that he will get right the long term because he speaks with authority and love beyond this world. And the hope of the world, of course, is not us but him. And so I’ve divided this section of Mark 13:1-13. It’s on page 1006. If you want to look it up. Page 1006. Mark 13:1-13. I’ve divided it into two parts.
The first part is just the first two verses, and I’ve called it – ‘The person of Christ is the one we need’
and the second section versus 3-13, I’ve called – ‘The priorities for disciples in a fallen world’
First of all, the person of Christ is the one we need.
Look again at chapter 13, he’s leaving the temple. Jesus. One of the disciples says to him, “Lord, Teacher, what massive stones! What magnificent buildings.”
And Jesus replied, “You see these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another. Everyone will be thrown down.”
Now, this little phrase Jesus, leaving the temple is a loaded sentence. I have been thinking about it all week. Jesus left the temple. He is finished with the old temple. It’s had its day. I mean, he first of all attacked it back in chapter 11 because of all its hypocrisy, turning over the tables and declaring it to basically be a fruitless tree. Then, as he hung around in the temple, he got attacked by the men of the temple who came up and said to him, Where do you get your authority? Should we pay taxes to Caesar? Clever way of getting you into trouble. How can you seriously believe in the resurrection? And Jesus found himself in a battle within the temple and of course, the temple was a place God had commissioned. It’s not as though there was a mistake made in building the temple. It’s exactly what God wanted. But it was meant to be a place of truth and mercy, and it was meant in a way to lead up to Jesus. And now the temple has become a place with virtually no truth and no mercy, and the arrow is pointing away from Jesus, so it couldn’t really be a more tragic situation.
And when Jesus leaves in Mark 13:1 never to return, he’s making a break with the temple. Its usefulness is finished and soon its existence will be finished. Now we may be a little shocked to hear this because it was a terrific structure and if we got in a time machine and went back and saw Jesus saying, “See that building that God commissioned, it’s over.” We might be thinking, This is terrible. How can Jesus be so dismissive? I mean, it’s spectacular. The structure covered a number of football stadiums. Many of the stones were told to be five metres by five metres by 10 metres, which makes all the stones of this building look like little pebbles.
And Bishop Ryle says in his commentary, “Jesus has not a word of admiration or commendation for the design or the workmanship.” Having said that, you’re not meant to give up on the building project of ST Thomas’. Do not mishear me. This building is for the spread of the gospel in this generation and the next, and we must sustain it. But we’re talking now about the Old Testament Temple. When Jesus said that every stone would be thrown down, this actually came true. When Titus, the Roman Titus, came in with his army in 70 A.D. they attacked the city. And it is said by the historians that they were so angry and so hateful towards the temple that they just basically forced, pushed as best they could, threw down the stones of the building. But if you put yourself in the position of the disciples and you think to yourself, why would God do this?
Last time the temple was destroyed was when we went to Babylon. So what are we talking about? Jesus, what are we talking about? But the point that Jesus is making is that the Messiah has come. He’s the one we need. We don’t need the Great Temple in Jerusalem. And this, my friends, is a very comforting thing for you this morning. And it’s a very challenging thing. It’s a very comforting thing because you’re going to go home, God willing, with Jesus, I am with you always said Jesus and here’s your security and here’s your safety. It’s a very, very comforting thing, but it’s also very challenging. It’s a comforting thing because as Jesus leaves the temple, he holds the key to the future. In fact, he is the new temple. He is the place where you will get information about God, where you’ll get mercy from God and where you’ll connect with God.
The old Temple attempted to give information, mercy, connection, but it’s all been replaced by Jesus. So Jesus is the fulfilment of the blueprint of the old temple or the old Temple is a little model, believe it or not of Jesus. Of course, if you saw them next to each other, you’d think huge old temple little person of Jesus. But it’s actually little model temple, huge Jesus. The temple is a billboard. It’s a big billboard. It’s an easily defaced billboard, and it’s talking about Jesus. And the comfort of this is that if you get this, if you hear today, you get this. And I’m saying this deliberately because lots of people come to church who never get it, they never get it. But if you get this, if you can say I have Christ, Christ is the one I want and I have him and he has me and I’m not settling for a building, and I’m not settling for anything but Jesus. Here’s the solution to my sin. You have everything.
Many of you know, that tomorrow we have a family funeral in this fine building, and the joy on this sad occasion is that the person that we’re fair-welling has left with Jesus and is completely safe. That’s the great strength and comfort of this section. But it’s also very challenging because it means that Christianity is not a temple. It’s not a building, it’s not a religion. It’s not even ethics. But for so many people today, especially outside the church, all they can see is the building and the music and the coffee and worst of all – the minister. And if that’s who they pin their interest in. If that’s what they pin their interest in, then it’s an absolute tragedy. This would be like a person planning a wedding with no spouse. This would be like a couple planning a child’s room with no child and some people. For some people, Christianity is the building. It’s the music, the coffee and Jesus looks at all of this. And he says, it’s all going to disappear.
Why is it that it takes some people so long to do what a three year old in the Sunday school can do? Which is to ask Jesus to be Saviour and Lord? Some people never get around to that. And that’s why the key to Christianity is not sight, but faith. It’s reading the promises of Christ putting your faith in Christ. Don’t think of Christ as being first of all your model for living. You’ve got to think of him being first of all your Saviour for rescue. Then he may be your model for living. So this temple in Chapter 13, verse one and two is finished. It’s finished theologically. It’s finished historically. The person of Christ is the person, the one we need. That’s the first point.
The priorities for disciples in a fallen world.
Well, you can imagine the disciples are shocked. They are. And they asked two questions. They say, Lord, when will this happen? You know, we’d like the date. Second, what should we look for? We’d like the sign. And Jesus gives no answer to either of their questions. He doesn’t say when it will happen exactly. And he doesn’t say I’ve got a sign for you to look for because what he is about to do is give them some priorities for living in the world and coping in the world, which are going to help them every day.
Can I just say, as an aside, is it not interesting that the disciples, good men, pray for what they consider to be key information and they don’t get it? They get what Jesus considers to be key information. So they say, this is what will help us – tell us the date and tell us the sign. And he says, This is what will help you, and he gives them four things that will help them. Now I have quite artificially divided the four into something to do with the soul, the mind, the strength and the heart. It’s a slightly artificial construct, but it may help you to remember the four things that appear in these 13 verses.
The first in verses five and six, is the safety of your soul. Jesus has been asked about the future, and he simply says in verses five and six – “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming I am he and will deceive many.” In other words, he’s not exactly answering their questions. He’s answering what is most important, which is the safety of their soul. They are saying the big problem is going to be physical, he says. The big problem is spiritual. They say the big problem\ is that we need safe bodies. He says the big problem is you need safe souls. That’s the point. Many will come in my name says Jesus, to deceive. Watch out.
So isn’t it interesting? He answers the question about destruction with Christology, but it fits the temple theme because he’s saying to them, ‘forget the old temple, forget about even how it will be destroyed. Concentrate on the new temple, which is me. If you belong to me, says Jesus, you’ve got a safe soul. So his first concern is not the danger of war but the danger of lies. And it’s the way that you get tricked into losing Christ by lies or you get tricked into leaving Christ by lies. And this is what concerns him. Now you may think this sounds very unlikely. You may think to yourself, gee, you know is anybody really going to be deceived by somebody who comes along and says I am he?
But read the New Testament letters and you’ll discover that there is a letter to the Hebrews for Christians who are being tempted to leave Christ and go backwards to the temple. Read Colossians, and there’s a letter to people who are being tempted to leave Christ and go to mysticism. Read Galatians and you’ll see a letter to people who are being tempted to leave Christ and go to the law. Read Corinthians and you’ll see people who are being tempted to leave Christ and go to superstars. Think how many people have decided even in the last year, to turn their back on Jesus and put their faith in Mary. Think how many people have decided to leave Jesus and put their faith in Mohammed? This is a very real issue. The first priority says Jesus, is don’t be deceived into turning your back on Christ. That’s the first.
The second priority, verses seven and eight, is He wants them to have a clear mind. For seven and eight, he says, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” Well, how can Jesus possibly say that to us? Don’t be alarmed when we hear of a war? But what he means by this is don’t think it’s the end of the world. It’s the mark of the present world. There’ll always be wars, says Jesus. There’ll always be earthquakes. There’ll always be famines. When it comes to the end of the world, which you’ll see in a week or two, there’ll be very, very different things going on. But when it comes to this world. It’s going to be marked by wars and earthquakes and famines. But the end is not yet now.
You may again think this is very ordinary, and you may be tempted to fall asleep at this point. But I want to say to you, there are many, many people in the church across the years who have skimmed the New Testament and said wars, earthquakes, famines equals the end of the world. And Jesus says, It’s not the end of the world, it’s the normal world. And there are many crazy paperbacks out there that will tell you if you want to know when the end of the world is coming, it’s wars, earthquakes and famines, Jesus says. That’s not the end. That’s the mark of the normal world. But when you hear that a war is being begun, that is going to impact us, you must say to yourself at that point, this is the normal world. It’s not the end of the world.
I’ve been reading Acts in my quiet times and in the mornings, and I’ve been very struck by the many trials the Apostle Paul has to go through and not least, the terrible storm at the end and the boat trip and all the upheaval and the danger and the terror and the throwing of the anchors and the throwing of the food overboard because the storm must have been terrible. And I’ve been asking myself the question. This is the Apostle Paul. This is the great Apostle Paul. I mean, the Apostle Paul lands on an island, and the Lord Jesus uses him to cure the sick on the island. Did it never occur to Paul to stand up at the end of the boat and call out in a loud voice to the storm? “Be still.” Why didn’t Paul say I’ll give that a try – its worked before? Let’s try it.
The Apostle Paul must be persuaded that the storms are what God will use, not remove. And by the time he gets to the end of the journey, every single sailor on the boat has come to their extremity and has heard the promises of God and seen the promises of God fulfilled. And so I wonder whether we shouldn’t say that a storm less world is more dangerous than a storm filled world. God knows that we need the storms in order to be sane, wise and sensible. I’m not saying by that that a war is a good thing. The war is a terrible thing. I’m not saying that a famine is a good thing. A famine is a terrible thing, especially when God has distributed enough in the world to completely cover the needs of the world and more. I think there’s one in the third provision of food for the world being basically grabbed by a section of the world. I’m very grateful to hear that the Christian people contribute wonderfully in these terrible times, and I was reading that in America, for example, where there are an estimated 350,000 religious congregations, they helped 70 million needy people every day, with 20 billion in donations. Over 60% of agencies providing food are faith based agencies, and the writer of the article says that if the church disappeared, so would millions and millions of unbelievers.
But notice what Jesus is saying. He’s simply saying, I want you to be clear on the normal world as distinct from the end of the world. I don’t want you to be a crazy person jumping to wrong conclusions. There’s enough crazy people in the church. Don’t add to the crazy people in the church. That’s what Jesus is saying. Get your mind clear that the world will suffer. Don’t promise the next world too quickly.
Thirdly, the priority of secret strength. Soul mind strength. Verse nine words spoken, of course, first to the disciples. In the first century, he says, “you’ll be handed over to the local councils and you’ll be flogged in the synagogues. And on account of me, you’ll stand before governors and kings as witnesses.” And then he goes on to say “the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, don’t worry,” he says “about what to say. Say what is given you for it is not you speaking but the Holy Spirit.”
When you get arrested, says Jesus and you’re brought in front of a council or a synagogue, don’t be surprised God is at work. In fact, God is with you. God is going to use this opportunity, says Jesus. You’re not going to be deserted, you’re going to be used. And Jesus himself knew what he was talking about because he had councils and synagogue trials around the corner. And the disciples did experience these councils being tried by the Jews and being tried by the Romans in the Book of Acts. And Jesus is saying to them, Don’t be rattled now. You might be thinking at this point this morning this is the most depressing chapter. It’s deceivers and disasters and court cases. But what Jesus is simply doing is he is putting the telescope out a little way and saying, Be wise about the next stage because eventually will come the last stage. The graduation from the school room will easily compensate overcompensate for everything that you have to go through now, he says. You’ll be given secret strength when you are brought in front of the council of the synagogue, and there’s something very comforting about this, and there’s something very challenging.
Let me quickly say what they are. First of all, what’s comforting: Verse 11 is that the Holy Spirit will help you in the courtroom. You haven’t had time to prepare. You have suddenly been woken up in the middle of the night. People have come into your house. They’ve pulled a bag over your head. They’ve taken you out in a van. You suddenly find yourself in some kind of beat up trial, and you’ve got to give account for yourself. You’ve had nothing, no time to prepare of any sort. And Jesus says the Holy Spirit will give you what you need for that circumstance. We see this, don’t we? In the book of acts, how often these very simple disciples are brought to trial and speak so wonderfully with the help of the Holy Spirit? And no doubt there are brethren every day who are being arrested and fined that God is enabling them to say the things that need to be said. So this is not a blank cheque for lazy preachers to be told, just get up and the Holy Spirit will help you to say something. The preachers in this church are meant to put in hours and hours and hours of work before they get up to say something so that your time is not wasted.
This is not a blank cheque. But Jesus says the comforter will help you. As he said in John’s Gospel, the spirit will testify as you testify. Now this is a comfort therefore, and there must be many who turn around and say how greatly I was helped. But it’s also a challenge. Look at Verse 10. The gospel must first be preached to all nations. Now some people think this means that before Christ can come, the gospel must be preached to everybody in the world. And of course, it is God’s desire that all people be saved. But I don’t think it’s the point here, and I want to try and explain this to you. Very simply. Look at the context. The context is not the return of Christ at this stage. It’s not as though Jesus is saying I will not be able to return until every single individual has heard the gospel explained to them to their satisfaction. I don’t think Jesus is saying that the context is that Christians are on trial there in front of governors and kings. Verse nine. They’re being helped by the Holy Spirit, Verse 11. What’s their priority as they are on trial?
First, the gospel. The gospel is first priority. The gospel must be preached in that context. It’s not even that we would be successful in our court case or that our reputation would be saved. It’s the gospel, says Jesus, and how many times people have made sure that in that opportunity, in front of a governor or a king, a very influential person who is going to be used by God to influence many, many others, the gospel has been wonderfully explained. You’ll notice if you read the speeches in Acts. The Apostle Paul again and again is basically saying, I want to tell you about Christ, all of you who are here. I’m not so interested in defending myself. I want to give you the gospel.
If you’ve ever read the book ‘The Killing Fields’, which is the story of the persecuted believers in Vietnam, especially in the sixties and the seventies. There are some really remarkable stories, and one of them, I remember, is one of the men who is a schoolteacher, a Christian school teacher and, as he’s working in his garden. One day he sees the Khmer Rouge soldiers coming towards him, and he knows they’re going to come for him and they come over and they basically collect him, his wife and his children, and they take them to the place where so many have been taken. The killing fields and the family are told to dig a large pit, and they know what’s going to happen. That’s going to be their grave. And they dig this large pit and they’re told to stand around the pit. And as they’re standing around the pit, the boy, the young son runs for his life into the bushes and the father, who has been explaining to everybody who is present, all the soldiers, their hope in Christ, his death, his resurrection, calls to the boy in the bushes and begs him to come back and join them. And not to be ashamed of Christ, but to stand with them for Christ, knowing that their hope is with Christ. And eventually the boy comes out of the bushes and he stands with them around this pit and they are killed and they are thrown into the pit. But the interesting thing you see is that there’s nobody present to witness that. But the guards and the guards reported the witness and the story and the story got written up into the book and the book got circulated around the world and the whole world heard of the witness of these people to say nothing of the family plunging instantly into the presence of Christ. So there is this tremendous opportunity which seems to us to be so horrific, but in terms of eternity is so great. So there is the sole being kept. There is the mind being clear. There is the strength being given. And finally there is the heart verse 12, which is to be with Christ.
The final priority says Jesus, is that you may be hated by everybody, but you’re not hated by Christ. Don’t leave Christ. So he finishes this section where he begins. He says, your own family may betray you. Unbelievable. Isn’t it that a child, knowing that the parents are Christians would arrange for the Christian parents to be killed? Or even worse, the parents, knowing the child has become a Christian, would arrange for the Christian child to be killed. Unbelievable. You may be hated says Jesus because of me. But stand firm. Your heart is in my hands. Don’t take it away. Stand firm. These are the priorities that Jesus gives to his disciples in the world, especially applicable to the first century but applicable to every century that the priority is that our soul is to be safe with Christ. In a 1000 years from now, that’s all that will really matter. Our mind is to be clear on the world, not jumping to crazy conclusions. Our strength is going to be given for the daily task of witness wherever it is and our heart fixed in Jesus is not to be taken away.
And the reason that this is so important is because Jesus does outweigh the whole world. If you have him, you have everything. Let’s thank him together.
Our Father, we thank you for these remarkable words and pray that you would give grace to each one here, each one listening to know and belong to and rejoice in Christ. And then, as we live in the world, help us, Heavenly Father to keep safe with Christ to have a clear mind on the world to know your strength for the tasks to which you call us. And to be ready, even in the face of many griefs and sadness is to know that our heart is held by yours for eternity. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.