Mark 13: “A Perspective”
Sunday morning worship, July 1, 2018
The last time we were gathered together, we recounted Jesus’ desire that His Father’s house, the Temple in Jerusalem, “be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17). As Mark 13 opens, “Jesus was leaving the temple [and] one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ (13:1).” Jesus was not as impressed with the building as His disciples were. Jesus told them, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (13:2). It would appear that Jesus saw the pride of Jews from a different perspective. This different perspective launched Jesus into a discourse on how this world we enjoy will one day come to an end. But before that end would come, Jesus wanted His disciples present and future to internalize three truths.
The first was that “the gospel must first be preached to all nations” (13:10). The second was that like the Temple in Jerusalem of which the Jews were so proud, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (13:31). And the third was that “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ (13:37).” By properly understanding the perspective Jesus placed on the realities of this world we can order our lives in accordance with the desires of our Lord and Savior.
Let’s begin right here in the sanctuary. Jesus’ overarching desire was for His Father’s house to always be and remain a place of prayer for all nations. Living with a global perspective on all that does and does not directly impact our lives is extremely difficult. With all of the pressures family, work, school, and other relationships place on us, most of us spend our days trying to keep from drowning in obligations. Reaching beyond what doesn’t directly impact us seems impossible as our efforts to simply survive require more of us than most of us are able to offer. So instead of praying for the gospel to preached to all nations with knowledge and an awareness of what is actually happening to the movements of God’s word worldwide, we pray generic prayers and give money somewhat indiscriminately to missions, organizations, and causes which have somehow come into our awareness. Investigating all that is done with our money or asking God the results of our prayers seems ludicrous. For example, most of us know that human rights violations are occurring around the globe. When CNN or another news service shows us videos of ISIS beheading Christian believers in the Middle East, we emotionally react. But according to the Voice of the Martyrs (see separate page below) “In more than 40 nations around the world today Christians are being persecuted for their faith. In some of these nations it is illegal to own a Bible, to share your faith Christ, change your faith or teach your children about Jesus.” I would guess there are very few who could even correctly identify a good many of these countries on a map.
The United States of America has provided us with the opportunity not to be aware of these nations because we do not share the same realities believers experience in these 40 countries. A great deal of blood has been sacrificially shed to give us this freedom to be unaware. Jesus told us every country of the world will one day pass away. Jesus told us every person who lives on this earth will one day pass away. Jesus told us every building, every church, every temple, every mosque, even every religion will one day pass away, but His words will never pass away. Many of Jesus words were placed in red letters in the first Bible I ever owned. I always loved opening my Bible and seeing those red letters and knowing that the God of the entire universe spoke words on earth that I held in my hands. I’ve always loved the Bible. And I’ve come to believe without that Bible and those red letters a nation like America would never have existed.
The document whose publication America will celebrate in three days states very near its beginning, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Absolute truth, the equality of all people, a Creator, personal rights, and a limited, responsible government are all concepts taken directly from the pages of Scripture. When American troops secure these freedoms for nations whose histories to that point have not been founded upon similar Biblical truths, democracy most often fails. Significant world religions do not espouse individual rights or absolute truth or even a single, all-powerful creator. Our Constitution was written without delineating individual rights. The lack of such a statement securing these rights was found so egregious that by December 15, 1791 the first ten amendments to that constitution were ratified by the necessary number of states. When the founding fathers couldn’t agree on whether or not might should make right or every state should have equal representation in Congress, a compromise was reached where equal representation was institutionalized in the Senate and the population census determined representation in the House of Representatives. When the founding fathers couldn’t agree upon whether or not slaves deserved equal rights, a 3/5 compromise became a part of the constitution. When the 3/5 compromise was subsequently challenged, Abraham Lincoln stated, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” This combination of compromise and standing for absolute truth and human rights continues to define our nation’s genius.
When slaves were granted full citizenship legally, what was legal constitutionally was not always experienced. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s and the realities of the Vietnam War sought to force what was constitutional to become experiential. It remains debatable how equal all Americans actually are. Today we also face another challenge to what was once called the American Dream or Ideal. On Liberty Island in New York Harbor stands a tall lady with a beacon in her hand. Inscribed below that beacon are, in part, these words of Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
So we look to the third message of Jesus recorded for us in Mark 13: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13 tells us not to be alarmed by wars and rumors of wars. What is to alarm us and what we are to stand watch regarding is rather, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many” (13:5-6). We are not to be afraid of persecution from those who hate the truths of Christianity because when we are put on trial we will never stand alone. The Holy Spirit will stand guard beside us and even speak through us (13:9-11). We are not to be afraid of family troubles, even to the point of our children being the direct cause of our persecution. If that ever happens to us, Jesus promises only, “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (13:13). When the antiChrist does appear and horrors beyond our imagination become everyone’s reality, we are only told to “be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (13:23).
According to Jesus as we meet Him in Mark 11 & 13, we are to gather together to pray for the nations, plural. Our priority as followers of Jesus Christ is the spread of the gospel message into every corner of this globe. The absolute, abiding truth of our universe is/are the Word/words of Jesus and these words and the presence of Jesus in our lives through the Holy Spirit are to give us the strength to do whatever it takes to stand guard that we are not deceived by some inferior or partial truth claim(s) no matter the form in which they come. We, people are what matter most because people and the relationships we form with people are all that we can offer to eternity. As we celebrate the birth of our nation, we need to celebrate that intrinsic in our conception are Biblical truths and without that parentage we would not exist. But we must also remember the words of Abraham Lincoln that we are even now “engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”
The genius of America requires us to engage each other in the battle for the truth that all men are created equally in that everyone of us are made in the image of God. We were not equally gifted or colored nor were the circumstances into which we were born equal. It is only through the truth claims of the gospel message and in the God-Man Jesus Christ whose story that gospel message tells that we are united beyond a perilously defined and propagated patriotism. When the church of Jesus Christ closes its doors to any person, Jesus will close its doors. When we stop listening to the voice of Jesus and responding in prayer for all the peoples of all the nations of the world, we are building on a foundation of sand. We need to once again focus our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths on not being deceived in any form by any other voice than the voice of Truth itself. We need to know the difference between the voice of God and the voice of comfort or protectionism. Patriotism, nationalism, and economic imperialism all carry perils the gospel message does not. And yet, the American Dream that everyone be given a chance to choose to live out their days with a freedom to choose to live by the claims of Christ or by any other voice clamoring to be heard remains a Dream worth fighting for and propagating. I believe that America at her best is a valid hope for mankind because it is an expression of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. But the dream that birthed America has not and may never be realized. Can a dream compromised from its inception continue to guide an immigrant nation to unity—E Pluribus Unum? I know a Savior who not only can but will. And His kingdom is our priority.
In more than 40 nations around the world today Christians are being persecuted for their faith. In some of these nations it is illegal to own a Bible, to share your faith Christ, change your faith or teach your children about Jesus. Those who boldly follow Christ—in spite of government edict or radical opposition—can face harassment, arrest, torture and even death. Yet Christians continue to meet for worship and to witness for Christ, and the church in restricted nations is growing.
Areas of the world where Christians face persecution include:
· Burma (Myanmar)
· Chiapas, Mexico
· Gaza and the West Bank
· Mindanao, Philippines
· North Korea
· Saudi Arabia
· Sri Lanka
· Tibet (China)
· United Arab Emirates
For more information on these countries and persecution worldwide, visit www.persecution.com.
New Colossus—Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”