...be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the
renewing of your mind... -Romans 12:2
strengthen me, that while I stand
Firm on the rock, and strong in thee,
I may stretch out a loving hand
To wrestlers with the troubled sea!
-Frances Havargal (1836-1879)
Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!" And Jesus answered and said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down." Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?" And Jesus, answering them, began to say: "Take heed that no one deceives you. "For many will come in My name, saying, `I am He,' and will deceive many. "But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows. "But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. "And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. "But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. "Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. "And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. (Mark 13:1-13, NKJV).
The disciples, having understood that the values of Jesus opposed the values of the treasury (Mark 12:41), they began to see that the gospel was opposed to materialism, including materialism supported by the Temple. Realizing that the values of the kingdom inverted the values of the world, they called Jesus attention to the obvious massive power and apparent reality of the materialism of the world He seemed to oppose. The Old Testament world revolved around the Temple. The Pharisees and Sadducees controlled the Temple, and the Temple set the values of the whole society.
Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here (v. 1)! The stones used to build the Temple were extremely large. Perhaps you have seen pictures of the Wailing Wall, the only piece of the ancient Temple still standing. Moving such stones even by todays technological standards would be quite difficult. Or perhaps the disciples called Jesus attention to the two main pillars of the Temple, which were eighteen feet in diameter, making the same point.
The disciples were shocked to learn that their spiritual leader was opposed to the Temple and what it had become under the leadership of the Pharisees and Sadducees. It was like thinking that Jesus is opposed to America, baseball, and apple pie. Opposing the dominant values of any society is like cursing the wind. What fool would think that he can effect storm patterns by hollering at them. Yet, Jesus had already demonstrated His control over nature.
I can imagine that Jesus spit His answer at them. Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down (v. 2). His point was that God was greater than the stones of the Temple. Men think that they are so great because they can move a couple of rocks around the playground. Because people are so filled with pride, believing in the ultimate power of their own knowledge and society, Jesus began to put human knowledge and power in perspective. The greatness of the Temple will not withstand the Word of God, He said. The Temple itself had become an idol, so God would remove it from history.
The disciples were impressed by Jesus description of the power of God. If God could tear down the Temple and build another in three days, as Jesus said in the next chapter (Mark 14:58), then God was truly a power to be reckoned with. When will all these things happen, they asked. Yes, said Jesus, God is a power to be reckoned with, and He began to tell them about ever greater acts of God that would soon befall not only Israel, but the whole world. Verse three tells us that Jesus then took up a position on the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple.
When will these things happen, Lord? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled? (v. 4). The disciples wanted to know when this process would begin and when it would end. They knew that Jesus was talking about the day of the Lord. Jeremiah (46:10) had prophesied about it. For this is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, A day of vengeance, That He may avenge Himself on His adversaries. The sword shall devour; It shall be satiated and made drunk with their blood.
Jesus answer provides one of the most distressing soliloquies in Scripture. He sights three things that will happen: great deceit, wars, and natural disasters. Furthermore, He said that these things will produce trouble and sorrow, and that they must happen. These were not potential scenarios that would occur if people didnt straighten up and fly right. These were not possible consequences of disobedience. Rather, said Jesus, such things must happen (v. 7-italics added)! These things are not optional, but will unfold as part of Gods salvation plan. If you dont find this a bit distressing, then you havent understood what Jesus said. Im not telling you this, Jesus is.
But these cataclysmic events were not to happen in order to punish the wicked, though that would be a consequence of them. Rather, these things would happen in order to bring faithful Christians before rulers and kings for (Jesus) sake, for a testimony to them (v. 9). Gods purpose here and in all that He has done is to preach the gospel to all the nations (v. 10). Gods plan has always employed the three Rs-ruin, regeneration, and repentance. First, people must realize the ruin that sin has made of their lives. Then, they must receive the Holy Spirit, who alone can bring about repentance and new life in Christ.
God knows that people will not listen to Him until they are compelled to do so. Isnt that the way it really is? People generally dont turn to the Lord until they find themselves in a predicament that they cannot control. Most people turn to the Lord only in the midst or aftermath of a crisis. This doesnt have anything to do with free will. Im not saying that God compels faithfulness. Rather, Im only making an observation about human nature. Most people turn to the Lord only when the circumstances of their lives are beyond their own control. Illnesses, accidents, or tragedies of some sort bring people to call on the name of the Lord. Think about your own conversion, was it not like this? Every conversion doesnt happen this way, but most do.
In the same way Gods salvation plan will bring all of His people to call upon His name, to turn to Him for salvation. Those who are saved before the end of the world will be used by the Lord to preach and witness the gospel of His grace and mercy. Some will be preachers, others will be witnesses in their communities, at home and on the job, among their friends and among Gods enemies.
We dont need to invent an evangelism strategy. Rather, we must participate in Gods evangelism strategy. God will bring about the circumstances in our personal lives in which we will be able to testify to the promises of God. Some will be brought before rulers and kings, others before friends and neighbors, but all will have the opportunity and the responsibility to testify about Jesus Christ. That is Gods purpose and plan.
Yet, we dont need to worry. We dont need to worry about our salvation, nor about our lives because God is in control. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and sovereign. We dont need to worry about our evangelism plan. God will provide the circumstances, the people, and the words we need to speak. In other words, evangelism is best carried out in a natural way, in ordinary circumstances. We dont need a canned approach. We dont need strategies. We dont need programs.
But that doesnt mean that we have no role or responsibility for evangelism. God works through means. He uses His people to carry out His plan. Thus we need to be willing vessels. We do need to be willing to follow Gods lead. We need to be responsive to Gods guidance. We need to live and speak our faith in all that we do. The best evangelism is a by-product of faithfulness. Faithfulness is Gods evangelism strategy. We must be faithful in our thoughts, faithful in our words, faithful in our actions. God does not call His people to sit around and do nothing, but to be faithful in all they do, and to do everything out of love and service to Him.
It is difficult to read Gods road signs without wondering where we are in history. Are these the end times? I dont know. I dont really think it makes much difference for Christians. If you are trying to wait until the last moment to give yourself to Jesus, then you might be concerned. But if your life already belongs to Christ, it wont make much difference in what you think, say, or do. Gods plan is the same whether Jesus returns in a week or another thousand years.
Nonetheless, Jesus gave three road signs to help us determine our place in history. Deception, war, and natural disaster are the signs. There are certainly an abundance of natural disasters, but I dont know if there has been an increase or not. As the population grows, such disasters will have a greater effect on more people because large numbers of people live in increasingly diverse places. Perhaps thats what Jesus meant.
War has been a regular staple of history. If you dont know this, you really should read up on it. Yet, I understand that the Twentieth Century has been the most war-torn century in history. Does that mean the Twentieth Century is the terminal century? Not necessarily. It could get a lot worse. America is presently engaged in a war in Yugoslavia. But it doesnt affect most of us very much. Indeed, it could get much worse.
When looking for historic signposts, the first thing that Jesus cautioned was, Take heed that no one deceives you (v. 5). Apparently, the greatest concern regarding the signs of the times is deception. People are deceived when they believe something that is not true. In other words, Jesus said that the first concern regarding the signs of the times is knowing the proper way to read the signs. If you dont know how to read them, the signs themselves will be of no help. Or if you misread them, they will be a hindrance rather than a help.
Knowing the truth is our only safeguard. When federal agents are trained to recognize counterfeit currency, they are taught how to recognize the real thing. Recognizing the varying marks of counterfeit currency is much too confusing. So, agents are taught to recognize the genuine article. Anything that varies from the real thing is counterfeit. So it is with the gospel. To keep from the deception ourselves we must study to know Gods truth in its most original and fundamental aspects. We must know not only Gods road signs, but His landmarks as well.
Surely we must receive the salvation provided by Christs atonement. But such reception is not the high-water mark of faithfulness, but such reception provides the beginning not the end of faithfulness. Receiving Christ is not the end of the journey, but only the beginning.
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