The Final Countdown

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 3/29/2020

In Mark 13:1 we read how “As Jesus was going out of the temple, one of his disciples says, ‘Teacher, look! What massive stones! What impressive buildings!’”

If you were a Jewish person, living in the 1st Century, the Temple was the most spectacular sight you’re eyes ever beheld. The highest point of the Temple stood 450 feet (45 stories) above the valley below. The Temple mount was the size of about 4.5 football fields. It’s massive stones, moved by massive levers, cut by hand, were precisely fitted together. During Jesus’ day, all way up to 63 A.D., it was a construction zone!

The First Century Jewish Historian Josephus described the temple this way: “Viewed from without, the Sanctuary had everything that could amaze either mind or eyes. Overlaid all round with stout plates of gold, the first rays of the sun reflected so fierce a blaze of fire that those who endeavoured to look at it were forced to turn away as if they had looked straight at the sun. To strangers as they approached it seemed in the distance like a mountain covered with snow; for any part not covered with gold was dazzling white...”

Single Mountain Picture. Josephus likened the Temple to a “mountain.” If you were a Jew, this mountainous Temple would have been the singular point of focus in all Jersualem. It would have been a point of national identity, pride, even faith. You would have derived a sense of security from is massive stones, it’s impressive buildings.

When Lara and I got married there were two places we absolutely had to visit. The first was WillowCreek Community Church. I’d heard stories about its massive campus, and impressive sanctuary, and food court, and bookstore, and ministries—I just had to see it for myself. So there we were on our honeymoon at Willowcreek! Lara had the Mall of America in mind. The mall was so huge, it had duplicate stores. It’s human nature to be captivated by such things. If you were a New Yorker, it was the Twin Towers. If Chicago, the Sears Tower. If St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, Arch!

Right now, I’m here standing on the stage at Lakeside. Before I was hired, I remember watching this building being built. It seemed ENORMOUS! You could see it from I-72, from I-55. When the church called to interview me, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to stand right here! This past month God has reminded me that he doesn’t need our buildings and programs and largess! Wherever just 10, or two gather.

This text isn’t really about buildings. In January we were looking at our Roth IRA thinking, “Maybe I could retire one day.” Last week I looked and thought, “Nope! I’ll be preaching until the day I die!” In fact you all might have to do “Weekends at Bernies” where you prop my body up, and dub up old sermons, so we can keep passing the plate! We all have these things that consume our focus. That become a God-substitute. That become a point of identity, faith, security, even pride. And we say, “Hey Jesus look! What a massive retirement I have. What an impressive church I attend, house I own, business I run, car I drive, family I have, country I live in, or possessions I have.”

Mark 13:2, Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another—all will be thrown down.” The stones of the temple were so massive, no way the disciples could have imagined them being brought down. Sound familiar? The Twin Towers. Or the Titanic. Nothing can sink it! The greatest economy in the world—no way it gets brought to its knees. The largest populations ever on earth—billions and billions. A spirit of globalism sweeping the earth. Nations becoming proud, and wealthy, and affluent (and ever more godless). No way this modern world w/all its medicine/technology gets brought to its knees!

If you were a disciple, you wouldn’t have believed Jesus’ words unless you’d seen it unfold. If your March 1st, 2020 self told you what’s transpired in just weeks, would you have believed yourself? I think of Matthew 6:19, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” Surely not Lord! Not one stone will be left on another. Surely not Lord!

This is the feeling generation. Given the choice between the comfort of God’s Word of a box of Kleenex, we prefer Kleenex. This is the most anxious generation in recent memory. You point people to the sobering spiritual realities and limitations of the things of this world, and they feel triggered. Jesus doesn’t bring comfort into our lives by pulling the covers over our face, by offering us a handkerchief. Jesus comfort by speaking TRUTH. The truth, no matter how hard it is, is infinitely more comforting than a falsehood any day. The truth prepares, fortifies. Falsehood disables/ blindsides/ and leaves you weak and vulnerable.

Truth! There is a limitation to the things of this world, your health, your wealth, this economy, everything we know, everything we take pride in, our technology, our medicine… every God-substitute in which we seek security, its all passing away. These massive stones, our magnificent buildings/homes, our earthly treasures—there is no permanence to any of it! That truth probably triggered the disciples. They probably sneered at him. But I believe right now God is shaking the foundations of our nation to force us to decide whether in what (and in whom) we will put our faith, and derive true comfort, security, encouragement, hope? Mark 13:2, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another—all will be thrown down.”

Mark 13:3-4, “While he was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” Oh how badly we want to peer into the crystal ball, and see the future! What if the answer is, “You will live a long full life without any peril?” What if the answer is, “You have ten years… months… weeks… days… seconds?”

Whenever there are these enormous hurricanes building out in the Atlantic, what do we do? We fly C130s into the eye of the storm. What is the size of this thing? What is the ferocity and power and category of this thing? What is its trajectory? When/where will it make landfall? How much time do we have? You know people are doing the same thing with this Coronavirus. “How many will be affected Lord? How many will die Lord? Where? How long?”

If it’s not Coronavirus that drives fear, its something else! “How long will my wealth last? My health? How long before this cancer, this storm, this earth, the polar caps, the zombie apocalypse, before a comet, before the Colorado-sized, pulsating super-volcano, before the raging nations trigger hypersonic nuclear warefare… if it’s not one fear it’s another… “Tell us, when…”

Take note of Jesus’ response:

Principle #1: Beware of false hopes.

Mark 13:5-6, “Jesus told them, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many. In times of crisis there will always be someone presenting themselves to be our Messiah, our savior, our rescuer. Our hope in man is as fleeting as any other hope this world has to offer.

Principle #2: Beware of Hysteria-Makers.

In Mark 13:7-8, “7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed; these things must take place, but it is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” Leading up the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, all these signs intensified. Like contractions in labor, they come quicker and quicker. Jesus is telling his disciples, your going to get inundated with all sorts of rumors, headlines. But that’s not what you should most fear!

Principle #3: Prepare for Persecution.

In Mark 13:9-13, “But you, be on your guard! They will hand you over to local courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues. You will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them. And it is necessary that the gospel be preached to all nations. 11 So when they arrest you and hand you over, don’t worry beforehand what you will say, but say whatever is given to you at that time, for it isn’t you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13 You will be hated by everyone because of my name, but the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

There are competing narratives about reality. There is the Biblical-Historical salvation story of sin and judgement, restoration and hope. But then there is the secularist’s narrative, that there is no God, that we are our own hope. If you hold unto the truth, you’ll have political, and social hell to pay! The government might turn on you, the press (NYT blaming Evangelicals for spread!), your own flesh-blood, your own children may disown you, may hate you. But don’t despair! “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” God’s salvation-redemption story will be vindicated. Hang on!

Principle #4: Prepare for Actual Danger.

In Mark 13:14-23 Jesus says, “When you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be” (let the reader understand), “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15 A man on the housetop must not come down or go in to get anything out of his house, 16 and a man in the field must not go back to get his coat. 17 Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! 18 “Pray it won’t happen in winter. 19 For those will be days of tribulation, the kind that hasn’t been from the beginning of creation until now and never will be again.” If the Lord had not cut those days short, no one would be saved. But he cut those days short for the sake of the elect, whom he chose. 21 “Then if anyone tells you, ‘See, here is the Messiah! See, there!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 And you must watch! I have told you everything in advance.”

Everything Jesus describes in Mark 13:14-23 was fulfilled in A.D. 70, when the Roman conqueror Titus encircled Jerusalem, and desecrated the temple. The horrific suffering of the Jews is reflected in the OT book of Lamentations. History tells us that the Christian’s fled the moment they say Titus approaching Jerusalem. They remembered and trusted Christ’s warning, and were spared unmentionable horror.

Principle #5: Prepare for Ultimate Things Right Now.

Notice how the disciples are consumed with what’s in their immediate view. This huge temple. This concern about it’s coming destruction. We’re just like the disciples, concerned about so many things in this life. But there is actually a larger reality that we should be concerned with. Just beyond this life, lay an even greater matter, and its eternity! If you think the coming of Titus matters ultimately (or Corona, or the next thing). . . What we really ought to be preparing for is the coming of Jesus our Lord! Lesser obscures Greater!

Mark 13:24-27, “But in those days, after that tribulation: The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. He will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
They were worried about destruction of a material, physical temple (building). But their greater concern was the destruction of their very body/soul. One day soon Christ will send forth his angels to gather up the elect for salvation, and the wicked for judgement. The only one in whom we can find life is the one who declared, “destroy this temple and God will rebuilt it in three days… God will raise it up in three days!”

Principle #6: Live in Constant Readiness NOW.

Mark 13:28-29, “Learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, recognize that he is near—at the door.” [Here Jesus is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem… when you see the signs, the temple is going to fall!] Mark 13:30, “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place.” The destruction of the temple happened within the disciple’s lifetime. Within 40 years!

But notice Jesus pivots back to the more greater/ultimate matter of salvation. Mark 13:31-33, “31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Now concerning that day or hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven nor the Son —but only the Father. “Watch! Be alert! For you don’t know when the time is coming.” Do you realize that there aren’t any other signs really left to be fulfilled in Scripture. Early Church perpetually ready for Christ’s immediate return. Not waiting on anything else. We’d do well to follow their example!

Jesus final words. Mark 13:34-37, “34 “It is like a man on a journey, who left his house, gave authority to his servants, gave each one his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to be alert. Therefore be alert, since you don’t know when the master of the house is coming—whether in the evening or at midnight or at the crowing of the rooster or early in the morning. Otherwise, when he comes suddenly he might find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to everyone: Be alert!”

READ 1 PETER 3 for Peter's perspective on living in light of the end of time.

Scripture Verses

Mark 13:1-37

Worship Playlist

Open Up the Heavens by Meredith Andrews

Cover the Earth by Kari Jobe

Christ Be Magnified by Cody Carnes

Death Was Arrested by North Point Worship

Study Questions

  1. Read Mark 13:1-4. Throughout life, what kinds of things have you anchored your identity to (i.e. place, building, monument, national icon)? What was startling about Jesus' pronouncement in verse two?
  2. Read Mark 13:5-6. What does it mean to root our identity in Jesus not just for eternity, but also this life? What is hard about rooting our identity in Christ?
  3. In Mark 13:8, Jesus says the signs of the times are "the beginning of birth pains."  This means they begin, but then build in intensity. What are some of the specific signs Jesus urges His disciples to watch out for in this chapter? Which signs are most alarming to you? In what ways do you feel these signs are intensifying right now?
  4. We are most apt to procrastinate about spiritual matters. As you consider Jesus' teaching, what most provokes you to be more vigilant and take matters of faith more seriously?
  5. In Mark 13:4 the disciples are concerned about the impending destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in their lifetime around A.D. 70. Jesus clearly answers their questions in Mark 13:5-23. Take a moment and Google about this event. How did that event fulfill Jesus' warnings in Mark 13:5-23?
  6. In Mark 13:24-27, Jesus heightens the disciples concern from an historical event to a cosmic event. What is that event? And why should that cosmic event be of greater concern to us? Are you ready?
  7. What do we learn about the timeline of both of these events in Mark 13:28-37?
  8. Are you ready to stand before God right now? What steps of faith are necessary to prepare us for what the future ultimately holds? What are you waiting for?

Apply It!

Resources

At the Lakeside Bookshelf:

Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of The Son of God by Timothy Keller