June 3, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Gospel of Mark
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
The Day of the Lord
Our scripture this morning from the Gospel of Mark is about an Old Testament term called “The Day of the Lord.” Throughout their history, the Jews have never doubted that they were the chosen people, and they never doubted that one day they would occupy the place in the world which the chosen people deserved and were bound to have in the end. However, they also knew they could never achieve this by human means, and they were confident that in the end God would directly intervene in history and win it for them.
This day of intervention is “the Day of the Lord.” It is predicted throughout the Old Testament by many of the major and minor prophets. The idea is there would be a time of terror and trouble when the world would be shaken to its foundations and judgment would come. It would then be followed by the new world and the new age and the new glory. Let’s face it, people even today, the many false prophets, are still predicting the end of the age and many think they know when that time will come.
As humans, we have never been really good at predicting the future. I want to share with you some recent predictions about the future. In 1943, Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM said this, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” In 1949, the magazine Popular Mechanics wrote, “Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons.” If you are too young to remember vacuum tubes, then ask your grandparents.
Decca Recording Company, much to their humiliation, said “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” They said that when they rejected the Beatles. Lee DeForest, the great inventor wrote, “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.” And lastly, Margaret Thatcher in 1974 said, “It will be years not in my time before a woman will become Prime Minister.” Five years later, she became Prime Minister of England. We are not good at predicting the future and especially the end times. But Chapter 13 in the Gospel of Mark has been called Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, and is one of the most difficult texts in the New Testament. It is Jesus’ final address to his disciples while they are on the Mount of Olives, across the valley from the walled city of Jerusalem, looking down on the magnificence of the Temple. It is his farewell prophecy. Would you pray with me?
The Temple in Jerusalem was truly a magnificent structure. It was one of the great wonders of the Roman world. It had been under construction forty-six years. It was located on the high point of Mt. Moriah and from a distance looked like a mountain of gold, because its nine massive gates and much of its exterior was plated with gold and silver and bronze. Some of the foundation stones were as big as boxcars.
Probably, one of the disciples, hoping to say something positive to Jesus, said, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” But it failed to raise Jesus’ spirit. His response must have left his disciples in despair. “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left upon another.”
So today, we are going to divide Jesus’ prophecy for the future into five parts to help us understand this passage better. In some ways it is apocalyptic scripture to be taken as visions and dreams and not necessarily literally. The first part is the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem found in verses 1-2 and 14-20.
When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong…then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains….How dreadful it will be in those days…. Jesus foresaw the end of the holy city. The Jews were familiar with the abomination that causes desolation. One hundred and fifty years prior to this, King Antiochus IV had conquered Jerusalem and had desecrated the temple by sacrificing swine on the altar and destroying the sacredness of the Temple. Now once again Jesus talked about the desolation of the temple. The prophecy became reality during the years 67-70 A.D. when criminals were permitted to enter the Holy of Holies and many murders were committed in the Temple. It was in 70 A.D. that Jerusalem finally fell to the besieging army of Titus, who was to be emperor of Rome. Instead of fleeing the city of Jerusalem as Jesus warned, the people crowded into Jerusalem from the countryside. Titus starved the city and took 97,000 people as captives. Over one million people perished by slow starvations and the sword. Only those who fled to the hills were saved.
The Temple was set on fire, the gold was melted down and taken, and later the Romans tore the Temple down so that no stone was left on another. All that remains today is the Western Wall of the Temple called the Wailing Wall. Ironically, this destruction of the Temple and the fleeing of the people caused the Gospel to be spread throughout the Roman Empire.
The second part of this passage, verses 9-13, is the warning of persecution to come. Jesus said, “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. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” Jesus foresaw that his followers would have to go through the most heartbreaking and soul-searing experiences.
Jesus’ disciples would face religious persecution, ironically at the hands of the local Sanhedrins and synagogues, which should have been havens for them. They would also suffer under the secular state and bear powerful witness. Persecuted disciples would dazzle their interrogators with their wisdom. Jesus told them, “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” by the Holy Spirit.
Staying true to the gospel was hard on relationships during that time. Families were torn apart because of believers and unbelievers in the same family. Children rebelled against their parents and as the scripture says, brother betrayed brother as Christians were persecuted. Staying faithful to the gospel can even get you killed today. Just announce your conversion to Christianity in a Muslim country or a hardline Communist country and Jesus’ words take on a terrible reality. But Jesus said, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
The third part are the warnings of dangers of the last days which we see in verses 3-6 and 21-23. Jesus saw quite clearly that men would come who would twist and adulterate the Christian faith. Jesus wanted to defend his people in advance from the heresies and lies which would invade the Church. There were those after Jesus who wanted to twist his teachings to suit their own needs. For example, many took Paul’s words from Romans 6 about God having enough grace to cover every sin to mean that people could commit all kinds of sins believing that God would cover them with his grace. They thought that sin was a good thing in order to give grace a chance to work.
Others tried to produce a heresy that would be popular and attractive. They watered down the church doctrine trying to eliminate condemnation and other moral demands. There were also those who came to believe that Jesus was never actually crucified but that his spirit left a normal man before the crucifixion. Jesus said, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect…So be on your guard.” Folks, that is why it is so important to know the scriptures in your Bible, so you will not be deceived.
The fourth part of the passage, verses 7-8 and 24-27, are warnings of the second coming and are dressed in the language which has to do with the Day of the Lord. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come…There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”
Many of the references Jesus gives about unnatural events at his time of return are from the prophets in the Old Testament. His language suggests a heavenly earthquake as star after star falls and the universe moves toward disorganization. Earth’s own star dims, and the moon’s reflected light is too little to see by.
In this cosmological confusion Jesus will come in shining clouds of glory. After all, he is the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days, both references from the Book of Daniel. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. His angels will gather his Church from every place in the world.
The final part of this scripture is warnings of the necessity to be on the watch. Jesus says, “Keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back…What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” William Barclay writes in his commentary on Mark, “If men and women live in the shadow of eternity, if they live with the constant possibility of the intervention of God, if they live with the prospect of the consummation of the coming of Christ always before them, if the times and the seasons are known only to God, there is the necessity always to be ready.”
Jesus says that he does not know the day or the hour when he will come again. This is for God alone to determine. And because of that, we should live our lives as if he is coming tomorrow. Day by day our work must be completed. We have to live our lives so that it does not matter when he comes. Each day of our lives, through following his teaching, through prayer, through Bible study, and through community worship, we must prepare ourselves to meet Jesus face to face.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we know the Day of the Lord is coming. Don’t be fooled by all the secular voices which say that life will go on and on. It will not! All of life is moving toward Jesus. As we come to the conclusion of this passage, be comforted by these three passages from the Bible.
Paul writes this to the Colossians in Chapter 1. “Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”
Then Paul writes to his friend Titus in Chapter 2: “The grace of God teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
And finally, from 1 John 3: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when [Jesus] appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” No matter what happens my dear friends, we need to keep our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, as we wait for the Day of the Lord.