By Simon ManchesterSunday 1 May 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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Our Bible passage this morning is Mark 13. It’s the section with Jesus preparing his disciples for the future. He says in chapter 13 verse 23, “Be on your guard. I have told you everything ahead of time.”
There are lots of people who predict the future, and they do so with mixed success. We need to ask our self whether Jesus is worth listening to. I personally don’t follow social media and I don’t know exactly what Israel Folau has been posting, but I read about it in the paper. Israel Folau is a very gifted rugby player and seems to now be a very high-profile Christian. And he’s been publishing news on social media that Jesus Christ will return, and that our response to him in faith and faithfulness is of very great consequence.
This has enraged one well-known Sydney Morning Herald journalist who cannot believe, in his words, that a book written 2,000 years ago should be taken seriously, meaning the Bible. Leaving aside that the Bible is outselling all his books considerably well and that hundreds of millions of people around the world are reading and appreciating the word of God.
I would’ve thought the question to be asked is whether the person who is talking about the future and the return of Jesus Christ is quoting an authority that can be trusted. That would seem to me to be the first question to ask.
Does the person know what they’re talking about? And do they have the character to be trusted? And the answer to those questions, I think, the more you look into the New Testament of Jesus is yes and yes. He knows what he’s talking about, he has the character to be trusted. He’s not a misleading person. He doesn’t hate us and teach lies to us. So, this remarkable chapter of Mark 13 has a prediction in it, which has already come true. That’s the fall of Jerusalem. And it’s got a prediction which is waiting to come true, which is the return and the end.
The difficulty for us, I think, this morning is whether we care about either of those two events. Do you really care about the fall of Jerusalem? Do you really care about the end of the world? I mean, the fall of Jerusalem took place such a long time ago. Are we really gonna be interested?
The second coming, the end of the world, it could be a century away or two centuries. Are we really that interested? I think the answer is that we live between the two. There is a promise that has been fulfilled. There is a promise which is on its way to be fulfilled anytime, and there is nothing smarter, nothing more comforting than to be people who live with good reasons for hope. It’s like going to your favourite supermarket. The supermarket has served you well in the past. You’re expecting it’s still got food in the present and the future, and you travel to the supermarket with a great deal of expectation. That’s how we’re meant to be.
Last week, we saw Jesus begin to teach his disciples that the temple would be destroyed. Don’t trust the temple, but you must be watchful and faithful in a very difficult world.
Today, we’re looking at Chapter 13:14 – 27. I put this into two simple points this morning. The first, “There is a time to flee Judea,” says Jesus. And there is a time to welcome Jesus. There’s a time to flee Judea, there’s a time to run away from danger, and there is a time to welcome Jesus. I hope you’ll stay with the argument of the chapter. The more you appreciate these verses, the more you’ll appreciate Jesus. So, we’re concentrating this morning. First of all, the time to flee Judea. Chapter 13 verse 14.
The Time To Flee Judea
Now, verse 14 goes like this. It’s a bit of a shock. “Jesus says to the disciples when you see the abomination which causes desolation where it does not belong, run, flee.”
One translation says, “Be ready to run for it when you see the monsters set up where it should never be.”
This seems a crazy sentence for people like us to gather and listen to. It’s the sort of switch you could imagine a cult getting very excited about. But Jesus is simply telling his disciples in the first century that they’re about to see something offensive take place in the not too distant future. And this offensive sight is going to be the trigger for them to run. The trigger to run.
Last week, we saw Jesus teach them that they would hear things, they’ll hear false teachers, they’ll hear news broadcasts. Now he says you’re going to see something. And what you’re going to see will be blasphemous and destructive. Now, stay with me. This is actually a quote from the Old Testament. It comes from the Book of Daniel chapter 12. The Book of Daniel finishes with this strange sentence that there’s going to be an abomination that causes desolation. And what Daniel, in the Old Testament, was talking about was a day where the Greeks would come into the city of Jerusalem, and they would destroy the temple. In fact, they would set up a pig on the altar, and they would worship Zeus in the temple, and they would basically shake their fist at Yahweh, and as best they can eliminate the worship of Yahweh from the city.
This event took place. You may think it’s irrelevant, but it took place, it was a prediction from Daniel that came true. Now, Jesus takes the same sentence, and he warns that there’s going to be a new abomination. And the new abomination he’s predicting is the invasion by Rome. And this is going to take place in AD 70. This also came true.
The Romans came into the city, and they killed many Jews, and they stacked their bodies around the altar of the temple and destroyed the temple. So, Daniel predicted the coming of the Greeks, and Jesus predicted the arrival of the Romans. In case you think this is all ancient history, Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2 that it’s the mark of the devil always to want to remove the glory of God and put in place something which is really an abomination. I don’t think this is ancient history. We only have to read our papers or watch our television, and you’ll see that the work of the devil is regularly to remove the glory of God from the centre and to put something in its place, which is an abomination. It did take place in a very drastic way in Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, it did take place in AD 70, and it’s a regular work of the devil to remove the glory of God. So, Daniel got his prediction right, Jesus got his prediction right. A few decades after Jesus spoke these words, the Roman forces came in, and the Christians who’d listened and were told to run ran and were safe. The Jewish people who had rejected the Messiah died in high numbers. They paid a hefty price for dismissing the messiah.
I want you to notice the urgency of Jesus’ words in verse 14. He says, “Run. Don’t go back for your possessions, don’t go back for your coat, don’t try and do anything. Just get out of the city. There’s going to be no safety if you stay.” Then comes a fascinating sentence in verse 19. “The distress will be unequalled. It will be unparalleled.”
Nothing before it, nothing since has Jesus, in all history, and he must mean in Jerusalem. This is going to be the worst attack that Jerusalem has faced. He’s already told them in the first four verses of the chapter, the temple will be thrown down. Now, he tells them it’s going to be the worst attack in Jerusalem’s history. Now, friends, I know when we read this morning, we’re tempted to think, “Well, that’s sad to hear and very terrible and just a little bit unfair,” and I guess some god is pretty helpless to know what to do, and so, all he can do is kind of wring his hands and warn people.
But I want you to notice that this destruction on the city is the destruction of the city that’s rejected the Messiah. It’s dismissed its maker. This is not an innocent city called Jerusalem. This is not a cruel god watching carelessly on the side. This is a city where Jesus has entered and taught very patiently, very carefully. He has healed the sick, he’s invited people to come in and live. He’s pleaded, he’s wept. He’s now about to be removed from the city and crucified outside the city. And so, if the people are rejecting their messiah who brings life, what’s left? The answer is that it’s only death, and that’s what Jesus is predicting. They’ve rejected mercy. They’re going to get God’s justice.
Even as he speaks, in chapter 13:14, his language is, “Run. I want you to escape this. I want you to be rescued.” And he says, “There’s mercy in the judgment because God is going to shorten,” verse 20, “the destruction.”
Even as the Romans are doing their worst, God is going to limit the destruction. And he goes on being concerned for the people, because he says in verse 21, “I want you to make sure you don’t get deceived in the destruction. This is the perfect time where people will rise up, and out there announce that they’re a saviour and the one who’ll solve everything.
Jesus says, “Don’t fall for them. Don’t fall for the false messiahs and the false prophets who might even deceive the elect if that were possible.” And look at this amazing thing he says. “These false messiahs,” verse 22, “are going to do signs and wonders,” just like the magicians in Moses’ day did signs and wonders with the forces of evil. Doing signs and wonders with the forces of evil is possible. I think there are many Christians who think that if signs and wonders take place, this must be God.
The Bible very clearly says that many signs and wonders are the work of evil. And the question we ought to be asking you is not what’s taking place in front of us, which is so spectacular, but what’s the message that’s being spoken by those who are doing these successful deeds. Dazzling performance does not equal authentic Christianity. One of the jobs of a pastor, one of the duties of a parent, one of the roles of a dad and a mother is to teach the children and the people who are young in the faith, not just what to believe, but what not to believe. We have to say to our children sometimes, don’t we? “Don’t believe that. Do believe this.” And that’s what Jesus is doing here, even as he warns.
I was reading that the exam rooms in the UK at the moment have to have digital clocks on the wall because many young people today can no longer read clocks with hands. That’s how things have changed. Now, if people can’t read the time on a watch, you can be pretty sure we’re in the day where people can no longer tell what’s true. And Jesus says, “Therefore,” verse 23, “be on your guard. I’m telling you this ahead of time.” And today, we read this after the time, and we say he spoke the truth. He was a true prophet. This all came true after he spoke. A few decades down the track, this came true exactly as he predicted.
Now, if you’re still with me, I’m going to pull a few threads together. First, remember Jesus said to the disciples, “Leave the temple. You’ll no longer find your security in the temple. You won’t find salvation in the temple. You’ll find your security with me.” Now, he says, “Feel free to leave the city. You don’t need to defend the city of Jerusalem, you won’t find your security in the city of Jerusalem. You’re gonna find it with me.” And therefore, the idea today that Jerusalem is some kind of super holy city is a big mistake. Historically, very special. But regarding security or salvation or holiness, if there are Jews or Muslims or Christians who believe that Jerusalem to be some kind of a very special city, it’s a mistake. We find our security in Jesus. It’s when you’re united to Jesus in a relationship, a covenant, a marriage, that’s when you’re safe. Wherever you go, wherever you live, whatever takes place, that’s where you find your safety.
Someone was saying this week that John Owen, who was one of the most brilliant theologians of the 17th century and a guy who’s almost impossible to read, but his writing’s very rich, reduced the job of ministry to two things for pastors.
He said, “A pastor’s job is to make sure that those who are not united to Christ realise they’re not united to Christ. And it’s to make sure that those who are united to Christ,” wait for this, “realise they’re united to Christ.”
Isn’t that a great summary? We’re to make sure that those who are not united to Christ realise that they’re not united to Christ, and we’re to make sure that those who are united to Christ know they are united to Christ. That’s where we find our security.
Notice also that love warns. It’s a great mistake to think that love keeps quiet. Love warns. This is what Jesus repeatedly did. He would visit people, he would speak to them, he would prove his credentials, he would make big promises, and he would warn with tears. It is the nature of sin to say to people who warn, “Don’t warn. Just say nice things. Just say what I want to hear. Say things that are comforting and wonderful. Tell me that I can do anything and nothing will matter. That’s what I want in my sinfulness, which is very like the Garden of Eden, isn’t it? We want every tree, and we want no death consequence. And Jesus says that’s just impossible. It’s just impossible. And he says, with great love for people, “You need to return to me, you need to repent, or you will die.” And when the city says we won’t return and we won’t repent and we won’t take you seriously, in comes death. And Jesus says, “Get ready to leave.”
Notice that suffering lies in God’s methods. We might wish that suffering did not lie in God’s ways, but it does. Some suffering is beyond our understanding, and we have to bow our heads and say, “We don’t know what this is about,” and we won’t know until we’re in glory.
But a lot of suffering that God brings is to bring people to their senses, and He does wake people up with suffering. A lot of it is to increase our hope, and he does dismantle our fingers, our greedy little fingers from our things through suffering, causes us to see what’s really important.
He uses suffering to discipline His people. And so, we find that our heavenly Father just won’t allow us to go on successfully in sinfulness. And He even uses suffering to save people, because Jesus suffered judgment so that we might not suffer judgment. Jesus had to suffer. And God, of course, will use suffering to judge. But it brings Him no pleasure. He says, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone. Turn and live.” He is not hard-hearted, and he’s not standing by helplessly. He’s absolutely sovereign wise, and wonderful. And that’s what this first section is really about this morning. A time to flee Judea.
The Time To Welcome Jesus
Secondly, the time to welcome Jesus. This is where Jesus says, “There’ll come a time where the sun will be darkened. The moon will not give its light. The stars will fall from the sky. The heavenly bodies will be shaken. And men will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”
We wouldn’t talk like this, but he does. And you can see that he’s putting the telescope right up to the very furthest position to say, “There’s going to be an end to the world.” We’re not now talking about the end of Jerusalem.
We’re talking about the end of the world. And the signs of the end of the world are gonna be big, not small. This is the sun stops shining. Moon, nothing. Stars are falling. Christ is coming. Everybody is seeing him. This is big. And he says that he will come, and he will gather his chosen. Three times, he mentions his chosen or his elect. Verse 20, verse 22, verse 27. In other words, I’m gonna make sure that none of my people are lost.
Calvin says says in one of his books, “Whenever we see the church scattered or torn or disturbed or tossed about, let us call to mind that though the church be now tormented or broken, so as to have no stability in the world, yet it will be by heavenly power, superior to every obstacle that the Lord will gather His church.” Yes, He will. That’s what He says. Well, at the end of Jerusalem’s fall, there was great devastation, and it was time to run to the hills. At the end of the world, there’s going to be the end of the cosmos. And the person, Jesus, who got the first prediction right, will get the second prediction right.
I write letters to the Sydney Morning Herald every now and again. They never get published, but they’re excellent letters. One day I’m going to publish them, and I’m going to give you a free, maybe multiple copies of these unpublished letters. And given what was happening to our friend, Israel Folau, I wrote a little brief letter to the paper this week. And I said, “The one thing that people don’t seem to face is whether Israel Folau is quoting an expert on the future. Settle that issue, and you’ll know whether to be grumpy or grateful. And the track record of Israel’s source is excellent, and so I am pretty sure his comments are helpful. Yours sincerely, Simon Manchester.”
Nothing in the paper, of course. But an excellent letter. But you’ll notice that Jesus says he’ll come in the clouds, verse 26. “He who ascended in the clouds,” Acts 1, “and went to the throne in the clouds,” Daniel 7, “is going to come in the clouds with great power and glory.” He came the first time in great weakness. He’ll come the second time in great, great power. He’s not gonna come through the heads of Sydney Harbour.
This will be a global cosmic thing. Everybody will see him. All his people will rejoice. Those who’ve turned their back on him will be deeply regretful. I love the verse in Luke 21 where Jesus says to his people, “When you see the Son of Man coming, lift up your heads. Your redemption is drawing near.” It’s a wonderful, wonderful day. And we need to have an excellent grip on the second coming because a lot of crazy ideas of the second coming have shelved the good ideas on the second coming. As one commentator has said, in technical language, “Misused eschatology has caused shelved eschatology,” which is a fancy way of saying, “If you talk lots of rubbish about the future, in the end, people will stop in the church talking about the future.” But we need to, without being fixated on the second coming, not forget the second coming. We don’t know when it will happen, and yet we should not be surprised, as we’ll see next week.
Therefore, friends, we need to say to ourselves, in the light of Mark 13, Jesus was right about yesterday. He will be right about tomorrow. And therefore, I’m going to trust him today. And as best I can, I’m going to obey him today. Because our world is going somewhere. It’s not going around in circles, as some people think, with a terrible doctrine of karma dominating. The world is moving in a beautiful sequence, with the sovereign grace of God dominating. And none of us here this morning saw the fall of Jerusalem.
We may not see the coming of Jesus. That’s okay. But we live in a world with the word of God. And the word of God, as Jesus says, has been given to us, so that we’ll be on our guard and know exactly what we need to know. I wonder why so many have little regard for the word of God today, even in the church. Why is it that the Bibles of some here this morning are gathering dust on the shelves? And the answer may be that there’s been no transformation in your heart, no conversion. There’ve been no spiritual faculties wakened so that you now have an ear for the word and a love for the word. That could be the problem. It could be that your heart is being strangled by some kind of sin or secret sin so that there are a lot of voices calling to you. And you don’t actually want to read the Bible because it will confront you.
But I want you to know that this is the voice that is going to bring you to Christ. And this is the voice which is going to bring you to reassurance. It’s tough, I think, to live in this world with reassurance without the Bible. It’s challenging to live with keys for information without the Bible. It’s very difficult to feel and know you’re supported without the Bible.
The big point of this whole chapter is that God is a God who speaks to us and He intervenes, He breaks into our world, He interrupts us, He intercedes so that we might not perish. He not only pleads, Jesus, but he bleeds. He pleads so that we will not die, and then he bleeds so that we’ll not perish.
When the time comes for communion in a few minutes, and you’re thinking to yourself, “This communion service is getting pretty stale.” You might just bow your head for a moment and reflect on the fact that God, for no reason except His grace, has intervened in your life and has brought you the message of Christ. And has caused His son to die, so that you cannot perish. He’s a great intervener. And not only does He intervene, but he uses us to intervene. Unbelievable. So many of you, through this week, maybe through last week, are going to intervene in your prayers for someone, or you’re going to say something to someone, or you’re going to send something to someone because He uses us in intervention, in order that people might not perish.
I want to close this morning by just reading you a few lines from a letter that I received during the week from a lady. Apparently, I met up with her son. I don’t even remember, I’m ashamed to say. I certainly have absolutely no ability to do any good for any people.
But this is what she said, “The most difficult child in my family started to come to your church and would not meet with other people. I met you one night,” she said, “and you spoke to me. You took his details. You contacted him. You took him to coffee, befriended him, gave him a book, and this changed his life. This is what you do for people. He has moved to Bondi. He has joined a church. He has been baptised. He’s married a Christian lass. He’s raising a godly family. We’re encouraged. Thank you.” Isn’t that wonderful? I don’t remember. I have no ability to help anybody. But Christ, who intervenes, pleading, dying, uses people like you, His people, to intervene and to bring information to people, which will prevent them from perishing. Your prayers, your words, your life, your love is a flow on from His great intervention. And that’s what this Mark 13 is telling us. He keeps His word. He will keep His word. We’ll trust Him today. Let’s pray.
Our gracious God, we thank you for the way in which the Lord Jesus speaks, to make sure that people do not perish. We thank you for the way the Lord Jesus dies, to make sure that people do no perish. We pray that you will give to all who are here this morning, all who are listening, grace to receive your word, your warning, your welcome. Grace to receive your salvation, your security. Fill us with joy, our Heavenly Father, as we reflect on the work of the Lord Jesus. And please, use us in his service as well. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.