Watch Out: Christmas and the End of the World!

The title of the message this morning is Christmas and the End of the World!  I don’t usually title these talks but that one feel good.  And so this morning we are talking about Christmas and we are talking about the End of the World.  At least the end of the world as WE know it.

This morning we are in our last week of our short little series we called “Watch Out!”  And we are studying times where we are taught to watch out!

This morning we are overlapping the end of one series with the beginning of our Advent series – we have four Sunday’s before Christmas.  And today we have an interesting passage to try to tackle – one that requires we approach it with a great deal of humility because it’s a passage that has caused much discussion among theologians for two thousand years or so.

Today – as we begin to prepare our hearts to celebrate the first coming of Jesus, we are talking about his impending second coming.

Did you know that Jesus told us he was going to come back to earth one day?  On dozens of occasions the Bible assures us that Jesus is one day going to return to earth.  The majority of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians dealt with his teachings about the second coming of Jesus.

Luke chapter 21, Matthew chapter 24, and Mark 13 all record this teaching that we are looking at this morning.  But John goes far beyond – he writes not a chapter but the book of Revelation – who has much of the same language he heard Jesus teach here in Mark 13.

The Bible teaches us that Jesus is going to return one day to earth.  Without question…  it’s all over the bible.

Just as an angel appeared to Mary in Luke chapter 1 to announce to her that she would bear a child who would be called the Son of the Most High God, who would bring to bear on earth a kingdom that would never end…

…in Acts chapter 1, immediately after the resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven – the angels are back at work.  10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 Today we kick off the Christmas Season by remembering that one day he will split the sky open and return.  Jesus is going to return to the earth again one day.  And so this morning we are going to read Mark chapter 13 and answer these questions…

  1. What in the world is Jesus talking about in Mark 13?
  2. When will the second coming happen?
  3. Why does Jesus want us to watch out for it?
  4. What is the biggest difference between his first and second coming? And I will suggest there is one that stands out from the rest for us to think about today.

Let’s read from Mark chapter 13.  As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

 The disciples are speaking about the temple – rebuilt by Herod the Great.  In fact as Jesus and the Disciples are viewing this temple – construction had only recently been finished – Herod took 46 years to restore the temple.  So it was quite a beautiful piece of work they were staring at.  Which made these next words of Jesus surprising and shocking.

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Naturally – the disciples want to know when…  “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Now – so what is Jesus talking about?  Jesus is making a prophecy.  The year that Jesus is speaking to his disciples is about 30ad.  And He is prophesying about the utter and complete destruction of Jerusalem and the temple sometime within their lifetime.

We know that it occurred as Jesus said it would, in the year 70ad.   After yet another Jewish rebellion, the Romans had had enough.  And they besieged the city, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives.  And the temple was utterly destroyed.

Here are pictures of those stones Jesus referred to that still to this day litter the streets around where the temple once stood.

But what makes Mark 13 and Luke 21 and Matthew 24 difficult to understand is that, it appears that Jesus Prophecy goes beyond the destruction of Jerusalem.  He flies way into the future – and into our future – in his prophecy – and clearly ends up discussing the cataclysmic events that the Bible teaches us will announce the beginning of the end of the world as we know it.

The difficulty is determining where in the chapter the change happens.  And honestly sometimes it feels like Jesus’ prophecy goes back and forth between what will happen in 70ad to Jerusalem – and what will happen just before he returns to earth again.

It’s not always easy to figure out which event Jesus is referring to in his prophecy here in Mark 13.  Is he referring to the destruction of Jerusalem or is he speaking about the world just before his second coming.

So here is my best and very humble attempt to make sense of Mark 13.

First – these verse – Mark 13:5-12 – describe in a nutshell the history of humanity for the past two thousand years.  In other words – what we are about to read is the current condition of the world and has been since the day after Jesus ascended back into heaven.

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 

 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.

 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 

 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

 12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

 So What is Jesus talking about in Mark 13:5-13?  This is the current condition of the world – and what we read is for many Christians the current effect of placing your faith in Jesus.  People have been and are currently arrested for their faith in Jesus.  Persecuted.  Families turn on their children – it’s all currently happening.  War famine conquest and disease – all regular headlines in the news for more than 2000 years now.

From there though, It appears to me that Jesus answers the disciples question about the destruction of Jerusalem very specifically.   Mark 13:14-20 is a prophecy of what will happen to Jerusalem.

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 

 The Abomination that causes desolation referred to something that happened hundreds of years before Jesus is teaching, when the greeks ruled the city and the ruler desecrated the temple by offering pigs as sacrifices to Zeus in the temple.

So Jesus’ warning here seems to imply that some kind of desecration of the temple should alert them that the times of trouble are near.

 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 

 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

 20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.

 So Mark 13:14-20 is Jesus’ warning to his followers – to get out of dodge when they see this time approaching in the city of Jerusalem.  

And – according to the historian Eusibius – the church listened to Jesus.  In Luke 21:20 Jesus gets specific and tells them – “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know the time of destruction has come”

And church history tells us that the Church listened to Jesus.  They obeyed his teaching – and when they saw the Roman armies coming to Jerusalem – they left the city – they remembered Jesus’ teaching – and left the city and fled to a city called Pella.

So far in Mark 13 – we see Jesus is prophesying about what will happens to his followers in the world until he returns, and then he talks about specifically those in Jerusalem at some point I the future – that we know to be 70ad.  It was in their future our past.

But now Jesus is going to start talking about our future.  Mark 13:21-27 is a prophecy regarding his second coming. 

 He’s going to prophecy about what is yet in our future, as we speak.  The events that will occur just before he returns.

21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

Now for those of you who are into this kind of thing – if you read Revelations you will find a period of great tribulation – just before the return of Jesus.  It’s a time not unlike the ten plagues that fell upon Egypt.

And John uses this language from Jesus here in his book to describe this short period just before Jesus will return to the Earth.  that’s why we’d say this passage refers to a time yet in our future- because that’s how John used it.

After this time of tribulation- Jesus will return.

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

So – that’s my best efforts to explain what’s going on in Mark 13.  Jesus is prophesying about life until he returns.  About the fall of Jerusalem specifically, and about events surrounding the time of his second coming.

 Now – let’s answer the second question.  When will the second coming happen?  And this one is a fun one.  But the answer is I don’t know.  And neither does the person trying to sell you a book that tells you they know.

A few years ago- 2014- this guy John Hagee made a fortune selling books about the blood moons and how they were to usher in the return of Jesus.  And boy was he making cash.  And at the time I showed you that while he was selling books about the end of the world in October of 2015, he was selling tickets to people to take a cruise with him in the summer of 2016.

Now am I picking on him?  Yes and rightfully so.  Because you can’t claim to know the deep things of God and yet not understand the easy things, like for instance when Jesus tells us – in Mark 13:32  32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

No one knows when Jesus will return.  And according to Jesus, this is something he chooses to leave to the discretion of his father.  If Jesus says he doesn’t know, then John Hagee doesn’t know either.

What I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that he is going to return and he wants us to want his return.  And that brings us to our third question.

If Jesus tells us we will not know the hour, then why does he tells us to keep watch.  Why does he tell us to watch out!

33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.

 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

If Jesus tells us we will not know the hour, then why does he tells us to keep watch.  Why does he tell us to watch out? 

I’d suggest three reasons…  First – there is a component of simply living our lives with an understanding that he could return at any time he chooses and so -1.  Live your life as though you are ready to meet Jesus at any moment. 

 There is an element of living a life of integrity. At any moment we could meet him.  He could return or we could go to be with him.  Be ready at all times.  Be alert and vigilant. Don’t fall asleep on watch!  Don’t be lulled into thinking that it doesn’t matter how we live – lots of time- lots of years left to attend to my faith.

You know we talk much here at Journey about giving you room to explore Christianity.  We say you are welcome here at Journey even if you are not yet ready to follow Jesus.  Even if you are on the fence – there’s a place for you – all of it true.  But don’t allow yourself to be lulled into thinking you have forever to make the call.  You don’t know how much time you have left to make that call.  You could meet Jesus face to face at any moment.

We talk about living an unhurried life, but that doesn’t mean living life without a sense of urgency.  Please don’t lose the sense of urgency – by thinking you have all the time in the world – our time belongs to God who wrote that number down in his book before any of our days came to be.

Jesus wants us to live life with a sense of urgency and integrity.  Be ready at any time to be face to face with our savior.

But why else does Jesus tell us to be ready!  To be on watch? 2. I think Jesus wants us to be the kinds of people who yearn for his arrival.  And this is something that is more difficult for Americans than just about any other people on earth.

Because, generally speaking, we are optimistic about our futures.  Many of us enjoy the life we’ve been given.  And if we were to see Jesus tomorrow, well, I would have liked to play golf one more time!  Others might think – Lord I would have liked to have gotten married – or have had a family – Lord I want you to return but….  Maybe next week?  I mean, Christmas is right around the corner.

The more comfortable of a life we live, the finer we are with Jesus waiting to return.  I don’t think we need to feel any shame if we feel that somewhere.  But the question is how do we overcome it?

We remember that the return of Jesus is going to be great news for people whose lives are currently filled with bad news.  The second coming is great news for those who are being persecuted.  For those who are starving of famine.  To those who are caught in war.  The second coming is good news for people up to their ears in bad news.

And so during this Christmas season I’d encourage you to tap into the compassion and the HOPE – this week we celebrate HOPE – that comes through faith in Jesus, and remember those around the world who yearn with all their heart for the HOPE of the return of Jesus.

And lastly – Jesus tells us to watch out – not only to make sure we’re ready – or to increase our compassion, but because he knows what he is bringing with him when he returns.

How many of you have an advent calendar in your house?  And your kids use it to count down the days to Christmas.  I can’t wait!  I know good things are coming my way!

Only Jesus really understands that when he returns – what he is bringing with him blows Christmas day out of the water!

I want you to think right now of the single most joyous event in your life.  I want you to think of the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever laid eyes on.  I want you to think of the day you believe you were the most happiest?

What we have in store for us is all three of those moments times a million or so – every day for eternity.

There’s something coming our way so much better than anything we’ve ever tried in this kind of world.  Can we even begin to imagine a world where there is no more pain, no more death, no more sorrow. No more war, no more conquest and disease and famine and suffering?

C.S. Lewis ends his Chronicles of Narnia with the book, The Last Battle.  In the book the characters find themselves inhabiting the New Narnia – a depiction really of the return of Jesus.

Can I quote from it?

It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then he cried:

 “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that is sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”

Bring it Jesus!  Come Lord – return and make this world the way you created it to be.

Now – as we come to the end of our talk this morning – I want to point out one major difference between the first coming of Jesus and the second.

There are many difference – And the differences are striking.  The first time Jesus came as a baby – the second time he will come as a conquering warrior.  The first time he came in gentleness – the next time he comes with power and glory!  The first time there was one star in the sky that shone brighter than the rest.  The second time he comes the stars will be falling out of the sky!

There are many many differences to study between the first and second coming of Jesus.  But none more startling than this.  The next time Jesus shows up on earth – he will come to bring judgment to the world.

But the first time, Jesus didn’t come to bring judgment – he came to receive it.

See we were all in deep trouble.  Our sins – our treasonous activity – our rebellion against the God of the Universe brought with it a judgment of death.

Jesus came to receive the judgment – that all who place their faith in Him would not perish, would NOT be condemned.  And the only just way for us to avoid condemnation was for Jesus to receive it in our place.

And this is where we come to the communion table today to remember.  We remember why Jesus came in the first place.  To die the death that justice required.  And so we take the communion elements – and we take this wafer that is a symbol of the body of Jesus.  Broken for us on the cross.

1 Corinthians 11

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 

25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

  26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.