Passage: Mark 13
Two years ago this week, as we faced the beginning of the Covid pandemic, Britain went into lockdown. This will be one of those moments in life that many of us will never forget. Although Covid is still with us, as some reading this can personally testify, the news flow has shifted to a very different threat. A threat that many thought that we’d never see again in Europe, and that is war. Understandably, many people are despairing as to what is happening in our world and terrified of it escalating. The conflict is real and painful and we can only begin to imagine the trauma that many Ukrainians are feeling as they leave their homes, country and loved ones and flee to foreign lands. We are rightly being encouraged to give our support in whatever way possible and persevere in prayer for this war to end. But all of this is not a surprise to God and he is in complete control. Mark chapter 13 helps us see this.
When a new baby is on its way into the world the expectant mother will experience birth pains. These are not a sign that the birth has arrived but rather that it is coming. In v7-8 Jesus tells his disciples- “When you hear of wars and rumours 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.” Wars, and indeed pandemics, are a part of the world we live in and a sign that we are in the last days- the time between Christ’s ascension and his glorious return. They are painful and the suffering might be widespread, but their occurrence should not surprise us. They are not a sign that the end of the world has come, but like birth-pains, they are a reminder that the world will one day end. Every time such painful situations arise, they should serve as a wake-up call to us that the world as we know it has a sell-by date.
In such times of suffering and pain you might think that Jesus would tell his disciples to focus all their effort on humanitarian aid, conflict resolution or vaccine rollout. Of course these are all much needed and a wonderful expression of love and important to support. However, Jesus’ focus for his disciples in the last days is something different. It is the proclamation of the gospel. “And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.” (v10) And it will be because of the Gospel that Jesus warns his disciples that they will suffer. “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (v13) When our news channels are filled 24/7 with the latest pandemic statistics or the aftermath of the latest Russian bombardment, it is easy to think that these things are the biggest problems that face humanity. Terrible that these undoubtedly are, we face an even bigger problem and it is this; people are dying on a daily basis all over the world in ignorance of their salvation through Jesus Christ. Our rebellion against God means that we are by nature not his friends but his enemies. This enmity means that we will face his judgment and are destined for an eternity separated from him in Hell. But the best news that anyone can hear is that God has done something about this. He has come in His Son, the Lord Jesus, to take the punishment for our rebellion by his death on the cross, and through faith in Jesus our sins are forgiven, we’re reconciled to God and have no fear of judgment as Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath. This is the good news people need to hear from our lips and see in our lives.
The painful birth-pains eventually lead in most cases to the joy-filled arrival of the baby into the world and it will all feel like it was worth it. So too the painful trials that characterize the last days will finally come to an end- “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 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 heaven.” (v26-27) The return of the Lord Jesus Christ will bring the world as we know it to an end. His return will usher in the new heaven and the new earth to be enjoyed by his followers forever. Here is the one with all authority in heaven and earth, before whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Here is the one whom God has appointed as the judge of the living and the dead. Just as a cinema film trailer tells us about a film coming in the future in the hope we’ll return and watch it, so the judgment of the Temple in Jerusalem that Jesus prophesies to his disciples in Mark 13, which would occur in AD70, is the warning of the certainty of the final judgment that is to come, which we must heed.
Jesus spells it out very clearly for his followers- “No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (v32-33) Jesus will return but none of us know when. So what does he want us to do? Well seven times in Mark 13 he tells his disciples to keep watch, be on your guard, be alert. We are neither to become paralysed with fear in the face of the painful birth pains, be they a pandemic or war, but neither are we to be super-spiritual sign watchers obsessing over world events and predicting when the world will end. What does it look like to keep watch, be on our guard, be alert? Peter tells us in his second letter- “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed it’s coming.” (3:11-12) Keep loving one another, keep meeting as God’s people, keep bearing witness to Christ, keep praying, keep using your gifts, keep faithful in marriage, keep teaching your children God’s truth, keep shining brightly for Jesus. Keep going!!! Amen