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Archive for the ‘Mark’ Category

Today we are looking at the story of the healing of Bartimaeus. Let’s begin by working our way through this, as Mark tells it.

The story

v. 46 – “And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd . . .”

This gives us the setting. Jesus was leaving Jericho on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. This was a time when many pilgrims would travel to Jerusalem – and this explains the crowd that is going along with Jesus and his disciples.

But this was not an ordinary Passover for Jesus. He was bringing his mission to its completion. As he said to his disciples in Mark 10:33-34, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

Jericho was about 20 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Pilgrims from Galilee would come south, around Samaria. And at Jericho they would cross into Judea and them move on to Jerusalem.

So then, as Jesus was leaving Jericho, traveling this route – v. 46 says, “Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside.” Bartimaeus, being blind and without help, was reduced to being a beggar. Waiting for others to come by to give alms so that he could have what he needed to live.

Despite all that was happening with Passover coming and the festivities and people coming and going – Bartimaeus wasn’t going anywhere. He was sitting by the roadside, hoping that the pilgrims were especially generous.

v. 47 – “And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” Once he learned that Jesus was nearby, he acted. Apparently he had heard of Jesus. He calls him by name and uses a title – ‘Son of David’ – that points to an understanding of Jesus as the Messiah.

And he didn’t just call out once. It says, “he began to cry out.” He must have continued to repeat – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

It must have been loud and persistent because v. 48 tells us, “And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” He was causing quite a fuss and making people upset. So they tried to silence him; to make the annoyance go away.

What was his response? v. 48 says, “But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” He didn’t let the crowd discourage him at all, but continued calling out to Jesus, if anything, more loudly.

v. 49 – “And Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.’” Even though Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to bring to fulfillment his whole life work and the crowd was with him and they were moving forward toward the goal – because of Bartimaeus’ cry of desperation, Jesus stopped. Two amazing words. Jesus made time for him. Jesus stopped to listen to him.

vs. 50-51 – “And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’” Bartimaeus’ eagerness and excitement come out in how quickly he comes to Jesus.

Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Have mercy on me” is the typical call of a beggar. Jesus is discerning what Bartimaeus wants – alms or something more.

Also, it’s important to note that when Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” – he isn’t offering him a blank check, you know, ‘I’ll give you whatever you want.’ This is actually the same question that Jesus asked James and John in v. 36 in the story just before ours, when they wanted to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in the kingdom. But Jesus told them no.

vs. 51-52 – “And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.” Bartimaeus’ request was granted.

Jesus tells him, “your faith has made you well.” Now this doesn’t mean that Bartimaeus healed himself, or that all that Jesus did was help Bartimaeus heal himself. Jesus healed him by the power and authority that God gave him. When Jesus says, “your faith has made you well” he is saying, your faith in me as the Messiah has made you well. Jesus is the key.

Bartimaeus recognized Jesus as the Messiah, as the one who could help him, and he acted on this. This was his faith. And because of it he was transformed. He was miraculously healed, but not only this. He went from sitting by the roadside, going nowhere – to following Jesus along the path to Jerusalem, a participant in what God was doing.

Alright, lets look at some –

Lessons

– we can take from this. 1. Jesus is the one who can help us with all of our problems. He is the Messiah; the one with the power of God to deliver, to heal and to make whole. Bartimaeus was right to look to him for help. And Jesus can transform us as well, making us whole and giving us new direction.

But not only does he have the power to help us, he is full of mercy and wants to help us and bless us. Jesus demonstrates his kindness and mercy by stopping to help Bartimaeus. And Jesus will be merciful to us as well, if we look to him.

2. Faith involves bold, persistent asking. Bartimaeus teaches us this. In v. 47 he cried out to Jesus for mercy. And in v. 48, when the crowd tried to silence him, he cried out all the more.

This is a picture of boldness. He did not care what others thought. And it is also a picture of persistence. He cried out until he got Jesus’ attention. He was a beggar and he knew a thing or two about how to ask for things! And so we learn from him.

In v. 52 this boldness and persistence is what Jesus called his “faith,” which made him well.

This same point about faith as bold persistence is made in other places in the gospels. Remember the Canaanite woman, who argued with Jesus until he agreed to help her? Jesus said that her bold persistence was great faith. Remember the story Jesus told about prayer in Luke 11:5-8? The man asked his neighbor for bread in the night and had his request answered only because of his bold persistence.

So this all teaches us how to pray; how to ask God for something. We are to be bold and persistent in our prayers.

Like with James and John in the story before this one, our faith doesn’t guarantee that our prayers will be answered. But if it is something that is according to God’s will, our boldness and persistence can be the difference.

Think of it. There were no doubt other blind beggars that allowed Jesus to walk on by. And they received nothing. We must be bold and persistent in our prayers.

3. Jesus has time for us. As we learn in the story, though Jesus was on his way to fulfilling his destiny, he had time to stop and help Bartimaeus with his need.

And so it is still. Jesus reigns from the right hand of God. And although such things are beyond our comprehension, I’m sure Jesus is quite busy overseeing and drawing all of history to its fulfillment. But Jesus still has time to stop; to listen to us, and to help us.

——————–

I encourage each of you this morning, whatever your need might be, take the time to look to Jesus. Call out to him boldly and persistently. Like with Bartimaeus, he has time to hear you and to help you.

William Higgins

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First of all, I just want to say again how grateful I am for all who came out to work and support our VBS this year. It is encouraging to me to see how many of you came.

It is also a blessing to me to see you working in ministry and using your gifts to work for the kingdom. That’s what its all about, right? I don’t want to mention names, but we have some really gifted, creative, dedicated, hard working people here. And it is a blessing to see you in action.

It is true that we had a lot of kids this year. Wow! Perhaps you too are experiencing a bit of ‘post-traumatic VBS stress disorder.’ At times it seemed pretty chaotic and I wondered if the kids were going to take over and we would have to run for cover. And perhaps we will have to address what our capacity is.

But whether we have more or less, what I would like to say today is: When we see the kids running all over, and you’re trying to keep track of them, and keep them quiet and focused to teach them – you can wonder – “Are they getting it?” And closely behind this question you might ask, “Is it worth the work – all the labor and the stress?”

So I want to encourage you this morning by affirming to you that – Yes, it is worth it!

Lets look at Mark 4:26-29, the parable of the growing seed.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

This parable teaches us some lessons about the kingdom of God and I want us to apply them to what we have just done in VBS, although they apply to all kinds of ministry.

1. Our role is to scatter seed – v. 26. That is, we are to share with others the good news of Jesus; to spread the message of salvation and new life through him.

  • We did this by teaching and singing Christian songs, telling Bible stories, learning Scripture verses.
  • We hopefully also did this by how we treated the kids – welcoming them, caring for them, loving them – so that they could see the love of Jesus in us.

We want them to come to know and trust in Jesus, as a foundation for a life of following Jesus.

This is what we are called to do – scatter seed. And this is what we did. So we can feel good about that.

2. We don’t know how to make the seed grow – vs. 27-28. As the parable says, the sower “sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself . . ..”  With agriculture, especially in that day, you don’t know how a seed comes to life and grows, you just know that if you pant it, it does.

In the same way, we plant seeds for the kingdom. But the growth of the seed is something that is beyond us. Especially in the realm of the things of the Spirit, it is beyond our understanding or power to force those seeds of the kingdom to grow.

It is like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6, perhaps reflecting on our parable in Mark 4. He planted seeds, but “God gave the growth.” God is the one who works to  make the seeds of the kingdom come to life.

  • In one way this can be frustrating because we want people to get it; to make the seed grow; to make them receive it.
  • But it is also liberating to realize that it is in God’s hands. We don’t have to take on the weight of the world.

We are successful when we are faithful to plant seeds for the kingdom. The growth, the numbers – what the world would focus on as “success” – is in God’s hands.

We fulfill our role and then we leave it to God as he works in the person to receive the message and act on it.

3. We have to remember that there is a process involved in terms of the seed growing – vs. 28-29.  I’m not sure that this is the point of the parable, but there is a lot of emphasis on this. Jesus talks about:

  • first the blade
  • then the ear
  • then the full grain
  • then the ripe grain and the harvest

Paul certainly picks up this idea, once again, in I Corinthians 3:6. He says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” There is a process, with different stages. We can take two things from this:

  • First, we shouldn’t expect someone to get it all at once. We are a part – perhaps small or big – in what God is trying to do in each one of these kids’ lives.
  • And second, from I Corinthians, God uses different people at different stages to further the growth. There is a team work part to this in the broader body of Christ.

We have done some work here this past week, and later we or others will come along to do more work in their lives, watering, tending, pulling weeds – to stretch the metaphor.

4. There will be a time of harvest – v. 29. As this verse says, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Now, in this parable the same man both plants and harvests. But often in kingdom work one will plant, others will work with the growth, and still others will harvest. There are lots of people involved.

So often we plant seeds in faith not knowing what will come of it. We have to trust God to use our efforts; to bring about the growth. And we will see the full results of our labors on the final day.

We just never know the real effect of what we are doing when we sow seeds for the kingdom.

It might seem to us, from the point of view of what our eyes can see, that nothing is happening. But from the point of view of the eyes of the Spirit, God is doing and will do an amazing thing with our labors.

What I am saying is that our efforts in planting seeds have an eternal significance, in these kids lives – those who come to church all the time and those from the neighborhood.

Even the one who is misbehaving badly, who appears to be not listening, who is acting out in rebellion or disrespectful. We are planting seeds for the kingdom in their lives.

I have heard a number of adults from the neighborhood talk about how they attended our VBS, some many years ago. One woman, maybe 60 years old, came in this week and asked to use the phone. When she found out that Cedar Street was having VBS she wanted to call her daughter to have the grandkids come. Why? She had come here when she was a kid. She remembered it. And she wanted her grandkids to receive as well.

Another woman, who is now a local pastor, told me that she came to Cedar Street’s VBS. Here she is, now a pastor – bearing fruit for the kingdom in lots of ways. Now, of course, many people sowed into her life, and she had her own home church. But we had, at least, some small part in that; the privilege of sowing kingdom seeds.

Which ones of the kids that you worked with will be touched, will have their lives transformed, might become a pastor or in some other way do great things for the kingdom?

And you know, it isn’t just the quiet one who is well behaved that God reaches. It is often exactly that one that is hard to deal with whom God will use in amazing ways in the future.

So as we think of the kids we have just interacted with – those from our congregation, those from the neighborhood – know this: we have planted seeds for the kingdom. Be encouraged! We are a part, whether small or big – in what God is doing in their lives; in making a difference in their lives.

May God work in each of them to bring about the growth. And may God use us and others in the process still to come.

And I encourage you to keep praying for them in the weeks and months to come.

William Higgins

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We’re continuing on in our series on the second coming today. Last time, two weeks ago, we went through the second half of the Olivet discourse. We looked at what I called “Jesus’ Roadmap to the End” – with its three major points:

1) The destruction of Herod’s Temple and the events associated with this, which happened within a generation of Jesus’ words, just as he said they would.

2) The times of the Gentiles – a time when God is working with the nations of the world for both salvation and judgment, as people respond to the gospel. This is the time we live in, and we don’t know how long it will continue.

3) The return of Jesus and the resurrection of the righteous.

We also saw how once the Temple was destroyed, Jesus could come at any time. Nothing else has to take place in the scheme of things.

And finally we saw how no one knows the time, not even Jesus. The Father will make the call for when the times of the Gentiles are over and Jesus will return.

Today we begin to focus on what Jesus talks about the most with regard to his coming – that We must be ready! Next week we will look at “How to be ready for the great gathering.” In other words, how to be ready for Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the righteous. Today its “Why we need to be ready for the great gathering.”  We begin by looking in more detail at . . .

The resurrection of the righteous

1. It will happen after Jesus returns and the nations experience great tribulation. Matthew 24:30 talks about the second coming and this time of suffering when “all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” And then Matthew 24:31 (the next verse) talks about the resurrection of the righteous. There is a sequence here.

2. The resurrection is called a “gathering” (as in our title today). Mark 13:27 tells us that after Jesus returns, “he will . . . gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” 

This gathering language is used in other places:

  • In Matthew 13:30 (the parable of the weeds) speaking of the resurrection, Jesus says, “. . . at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” – a reference to resurrection.
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:1 Paul says, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him . . .” – again, speaking of the resurrection of the righteous.

Also, the word “taken” is used for the resurrection. Jesus said in Luke 17:34, “one will be taken, and another left.” The one taken is resurrected. The phrase “caught up” is also used in –  I Thessalonians 4:17.

Whatever the language, the point is that we will be brought to Jesus, from all the ends of the earth and gathered around him.

3. Angels will be involved in this gathering. They are not always mentioned, but they are involved.

Matthew 24:31 tells us that Jesus “will send out his angels . . . and they will gather his elect . . ..” And as Jesus said in Matthew 13:39 (the parable of the weeds) speaking of the resurrection, “the reapers are angels” who will gather us to himself.

4. The resurrection will be signaled by a trumpet blast.

  • Matthew 24:31 speaks of “a loud trumpet call.”
  • I Corinthians 15:52 says that at this time “the last trumpet . . . will sound.”
  • In 1 Thessalonians  4:16 the resurrection is accompanied by “the sound of the trumpet of God.”  

5. The faithful who die before Jesus’ return will be first. At death they go to be with the Lord (as Paul talks about in several places) and they will come with Jesus as he returns in the clouds.

  • They will receive their resurrection bodies first. Their souls and their new bodies will be joined.
  • And then the faithful who are alive will be resurrected. Our current lowly bodies will be made imperishable.   

Paul teaches on this in I Thessalonians 4:13-17 and I Corinthians 15:52.

Finally, and the point we are heading to – 6. Those who are gathered will be sorted. For the dead in Christ, this happened at death. But for those who are alive when Jesus returns – as the angels gather us – there will be a process of separating those who are faithful and those who are not.

The angels will gather in all who profess Jesus as Lord; who look to him as the Messiah (Matthew 7:21; 25:11; Luke 13:25). But not everyone who is gathered, or seeks to be gathered will make it into the eternal Kingdom.

This will be when, in Jesus’ words, “those who are considered worthy to attain . . . to the resurrection from the dead” (Luke 20:35) will be blessed. They will be given resurrection bodies and will receive the rewards of the faithful. And as we will see, those who are not worthy will be cast away from Jesus.

This is why we need to be ready!

This is the moment of our greatest hope, for resurrection life and blessed reward. But it is also the moment of our greatest testing. Have we been faithful to our Lord and King? Or have we squandered his grace and mercy? And the truth is that not all will make it in.

Jesus speaks of this on a number of occasions. Here are some of them:

Matthew 7:21-23. This is Jesus speaking about the final day.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

As Jesus teaches here rather straightforwardly, “many” who confess him as Lord and even do works of the Spirit will not make it in. Rather, Jesus says to them, “’I never knew you; depart from me” – v. 23.  They are sorted out.

The parable of the bridesmaids: Matthew 25:1-13. In this parable about the second coming, there are ten bridesmaids waiting for the groom, Jesus. As we know, five made it because they were ready, and five did not make it in because they were not ready.

When these last five came back later to try to get into the wedding banquet they said, “’Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he (Jesus) answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” – vs. 11-12.

The parable of the talents: Matthew 25:14-30. This is a familiar story. The master gave his three servants tasks to do while he was gone.

When the master returned, the second coming, two servants had worked hard and they entered in. But one did not work, and he was excluded.

Jesus said about this last one, “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – v. 30.

The parable of the weeds: Matthew 13:24-30; 37-43. We have already looked at this in part. At the end of the age, as v. 41 says, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,” that is, all the weeds. And then the wheat, the faithful ones, will be gathered. 

Those who are a part of Jesus’ kingdom, who are not faithful are separated from those who are faithful.

Jesus said about the weeds, “Throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” v. 42.

The parable of the fishnet: Matthew 13:47-50. The net of the gospel has collected fish of every kind. Some Christians who are faithful, and some who have responded to the gospel, but are not faithful.

As v. 49 says, “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous.” It concludes by saying of the former, “throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – v. 50.

As we see in all these examples (and there are more) there is a sorting process. Some who are gathered, or seek to be gathered, will not make it into the kingdom. This is why . . .

Jesus calls us to be ready

He calls us to be alert. At the end of the Olivet discourse he says, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” – Mark 13:33. He also says, “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” – Mark 13:37. We will look at how to be ready and alert next week.
 
William Higgins

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We are continuing on in our series on the second coming of Jesus. Last week we began to look at Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Mark 13, Jesus’ primary teaching on his return.

Here’s a recap: Jesus predicted that Herod’s temple would be destroyed. The disciples, who saw this as something that must be connected to the end of all things, asked Jesus – “When’s it gonna happen?”

This is a picture of a model of Herod’s Temple:

second temple

But instead of answering their question right away, in vs. 5-13 Jesus talked more generally about how we are to expect  false teachers and persecution as we wait for the end and his return.

Today, we look at Jesus’ answer to the disciple’s specific question of – “When will Herod’s temple be destroyed?” This is where Jesus presents, what I am calling his roadmap to the end.

Stage 1: The destruction of the temple

Jesus talks about four things here:

1. The abomination of desolation.

Mark 13:14a – “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be (let the reader understand) . . ..”

Jesus is using prophetic – apocalyptic code language – “abomination of desolation.” This is emphasized when Mark invites the reader to understand what is being said. Its like saying – “Do you get it?”

Jesus is drawing on the book of Daniel here. Daniel portrays a pagan king who defiles the temple, most often associated with Antiochus Epiphanes and what he did in 168 BC.

By using this phrase, Jesus is saying that this will happen again (or perhaps he is even saying that this will be the true fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy).

In Luke 21:20 (Luke’s account of the Olivet discourse) we are given the decoded version of what Jesus means: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.”

This helps us to see that Jesus is talking about events that occurred not long after his death. In 66-70 AD the Roman armies came against Israel.

  • They laid siege to the city and eventually destroyed Jerusalem and the temple under General Titus, who later became emperor.
  • Then they offered up sacrifices to their idolatrous banners on the temple site

In these ways the pagan Roman empire, its armies and emperor, showed itself to be truly an “abomination of desolation.”

In answer to the question – “When will Herod’s temple be destroyed?” Jesus indicates that, it will happen sometime after you see the Roman armies coming ready to attack.

2. Flight to the mountains.

Mark 13:14b-18 – “. . .  then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter.”

The recognition of the Roman armies coming against the city is the cue for the Jewish Christians in Judea to flee. Usually you would flee into a walled city in time of war. But not this time. This time God’s judgment is coming on Jerusalem and the temple. 

Jesus emphasizes the seriousness of the situation. Leave your possessions and extra clothes behind and run! Jesus also speaks to the practical difficulties of fleeing:

  • It will be very hard on women who are pregnant or with small children.
  • He also tells them to pray that it not be in winter, when the rivers are flooded and hard to cross and the mountains have snow.

According to one report the Christians in Jerusalem did in fact flee the city, sometime at the beginning of the war.

3. A great tribulation.

Mark 13:17-20 – “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” 

Luke’s version here shows us that this time of tribulation is still speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. “For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles . . .”  – 21:23b-24.

This was a horrific time of suffering for the Jewish people:

  • They were subjected to the realities of seige warfare being stuck in Jerusalem. Some resorted to cannibalism when the food ran out.
  • Over a million were killed throughout Israel (which was a huge percentage of the population in that day). So many were crucified that it was said that there were few trees left in the region.
  • Almost a hundred thousand were taken away into slavery
  • Their temple was defiled and destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was burned, and their national-political identity was taken away

As Jesus said, if God did not cut short the days for the sake of his chosen ones, followers of Jesus – none would have survived.

Now, when Jesus speaks of suffering beyond what has ever occurred or will occur again:

  • He may be speaking figuratively, as the prophet Joel does in Joel 2:2. This would, then, simply be a prophetic way of describing suffering beyond imagination.
  • With regard to Jerusalem, he could be speaking literally. For it is true that it had never suffered this much before. And, if this is what he meant, then it will never suffer this much again.

4. A time of deception.

Mark 13:21-23 – “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.”

Jesus already warned of this, as we saw last week. Here he gives a specific warning. During this time of chaos and distress, don’t listen to false messiahs and false prophets. For they will seek to lead followers of Jesus astray through the use of signs and omens.

And this kind of activity – false prophets and talk of omens – did take place during and after the war that destroyed the temple.

This leads us to . . .

Stage 2: An undefined time of geo-political turmoil

Mark 13:24-25 – “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” 

This is a new section, for he says, “after that tribulation.” We are past the destruction of the temple and that awful time.

But what does all this cosmic language of sun, moon and stars mean? Is it literal? Well, when we look at the rest of Scripture, we find out that this is prophetic speech that was used to describe geo-political change as one empire rises and another falls at the hand of God:

Isaiah 13:10 uses the same cosmic language that Jesus does to speak of God’s judgment of Babylon. “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light, the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.” As we know, it wasn’t literal here. It was a way of speaking of God’s judgment on this nation.

Isaiah 34:4 also uses some of the same language that Jesus does to speak of God’s judgment on Edom. “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall . . ..”

The prophets Ezekiel, Joel & Amos  also use cosmic language to speak of judgment on nations.

Luke confirms this understanding. In Luke 21:24 the destruction of Jerusalem is followed by “the times of the Gentiles.” God will be dealing with the Gentile nations now.

Then in verses 25-26 comes the cosmic language with additional statements that help us see what is going on. Jesus speaks of “. . . distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the wave, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” Why are the nations distressed? Because of “the roaring of the sea and the wave.” And as we saw in our study of baptism this has to do with chaos, turmoil and judgment in the world (see Revelation 17:15).

Jesus here speaks in the most general terms possible about a time when nations will rise and fall in the world at the hand of God.

This section recalls Mark 13:8. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” These are the birth pangs of the end expressed in cosmic language.

This brings us to the last stage . . .

Stage 3: The coming of the Son of Man

Mark 13:26 – “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

After this undefined period of Gentile geo-political turmoil, “then” Jesus will return as ruler and king.

We learn from Matthew’s version that a part of this is that the peoples of the earth will be judged. Matthew 24:30 says “all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” Jesus’ return will bring great woe upon the people of the earth. The book of Revelation expounds on this in some detail.

More hopefully this also involves the resurrection of the righteous.

Mark 13:27 – “And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

Jesus will send out his angels to gather together his followers. Again, this is a common way of talking about the resurrection of the righteous.

Next we see the connection between . . .

The temple destruction and Jesus’ return

Mark 13:28-31 – “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Now notice, the phrase, “these things” in this passage cannot refer to the coming of the Son of Man, for “when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” The two are differentiated by Jesus. “These things” must take place first, then we know that “he is near.”

The phrase, “these things” connects back to the original question of 13:4 – “When will these things be and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” In other words, the phrase “these things” refers to the temple destruction and the beginning of the times of the Gentiles.

Jesus gives us more information about “when” in this section:

1. “These things” will happen within the span of a generation. That is, the destruction of the temple through to the ushering in of the times of the Gentiles will occur in the lifetime of Jesus’ hearers. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” – v. 30.

And Jesus stakes his prophetic authority on this prediction. He said, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” – v. 31. And, in fact, “all these things” did happen by 70 AD, within a generation of Jesus’ words!

2. Once the temple is destroyed, Jesus’ return is imminent. That is, no other event must happen before he returns. Which means he could come at any time!

But, lets be clear as we end . . .

No one knows when Jesus will return

Mark 13:32-33 – “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”

Although the other events will be fulfilled in the generation of Jesus’ listeners, no one knows when the Son will come in glory and power.

He could not emphasize this point more. Not even Jesus himself knows when! Only the Father knows.

So if anyone tells you that they know, ask them if they know more than Jesus! Then tell them what Jesus said, “you do not know when the time will come.”

We currently live somewhere in stage two – the times of the Gentiles. And Jesus could come at any time.

Since we don’t know when, as Jesus said, we should “be on guard” and “keep awake.” We should be ready at all times!

William Higgins

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We have begun a series on Jesus’ second coming and today we start to look at the Olivet discourse of Mark 13. It’s called the “Olivet” discourse because Jesus spoke these words as he sat on the Mount of Olives.

This is Jesus’ primary teaching on his second coming.

  • There are other places where he talks about this, but not in as much detail.
  • And we have this same Olivet discourse in all three of the first Gospels, with slight differences. So we can use all three of them to help us make sense of what Jesus is saying, which is a real help.

Now, when I look at all the debates and discussions about the end times today, much of which revolve around trying to make sense of the book of Revelation, which is the hardest book to interpret because of its symbolism (because you can read into it pretty much whatever you want), when I look at all this . . .

  • My choice is to start with what Jesus said. And to look at his main teaching on this.
  • And then move from there to make sense out of other passages that speak of his second coming.

So, we start with Mark 13:1 and . . .

Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple

Mark 13:1 – “And as Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’”

The temple here is Herod’s temple. It is usually called the second Temple. The first temple was Solomon’s and it was destroyed by the Babylonians. So when the exiles returned to Jerusalem they built another, second temple.

And it was this temple that Herod had extensively remodeled and turned into a wonder of the ancient world. It was justly famous for its size and beauty. The stones were massive – 25’ x 8’ x 12.’ The disciples were certainly impressed by it.

Mark 13:2 – “And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’”

He predicts its destruction. Now, this isn’t the only time that Jesus predicted impending doom for Jerusalem:

  • Jesus says in Matthew 23:34-38 that Jerusalem will be judged and its temple (or “house”) left desolate.
  • In Luke 19:43-44 Jesus talks about judgment on Jerusalem for rejecting him – “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Mark 13:3a – “And as Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple . . ..”

After his prediction, Jesus and the disciples went out of Jerusalem and onto the Mount of Olives. It’s just across from Jerusalem and you could see the Temple from there.

The disciples must have been thinking about Jesus’ prediction and so when they got there, they ask Jesus –

When will it happen??

Mark 13:3b-4 – “. . . Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?’”

The phrase – “these things” refers to the prediction of the destruction of Herod’s temple. They are asking, ‘When will Herod’s temple be destroyed?’ They want to know about the timing of this prediction by Jesus.

In Matthew 24:3 (Matthew’s version of the Olivet discourse) there is the additional phrase “ . . . and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

The disciples saw the destruction of the temple as an event connected in some way to the end of all things. This idea would have been understandable for any Jew. Today we just don’t understand how important the temple was for their faith. For it to go must mean the end of all things.

Well, Jesus does answer their question and he confirms that there is a connection between the destruction of Herod’s temple and the end.

As we will see In vs. 14-33 he tells them:

  • when this temple will be destroyed and
  • the connection of this to the end – his second coming

He gives them what I call – “Jesus’ Roadmap to the End.” But that’s for next week!

Today our focus is on vs. 5-13, which contain Jesus’ initial answer to them, before he answers their specific question. This initial response gives some general teaching on what to expect as we wait for Jesus’ return.  For an outline of Mark 13:5-13 click here: Two Parallel Warnings About The End

The first thing Jesus tells us is to –

Expect false teachers

Mark 13:5-8 – “And Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.’”

Jesus is giving us a warning, which we need to hear today. Deceivers, false messiahs will come:

  1. They will use troubling events in the world to alarm people – wars, earthquakes and famines
  2. They will say that the end is here – “Can’t you see it! All these events are taking place!”
  3. They will call people to follow them. And in this way they will lead people astray.

This has happened throughout history, from a Samaritan false prophet who gathered quite a following before the destruction of Jerusalem, all the way to the present and David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.

In contrast to all this – Jesus, the real Messiah tells us:

  1. These things must happen – there will be troubling events – but don’t be alarmed
  2. The end is not yet
  3. So don’t listen to them! They are deceivers who will lead you astray from your faith in him.

Just as a point of emphasis because we don’t always get it: These things (wars, earthquakes, famines) are not signs of the coming of the end. They are simply the beginning of the end. That yes, we are in the last days, (which began in New Testament times) but not that the last day is here, or even around the corner.

Christians today are often the first ones to be alarmed by events in the world. But we of all people should be calm, because we know this stuff must happen, but the end is not yet. Jesus has told us so. And he said “do not be alarmed.”

Jesus says of these in v. 8 – “these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” The metaphor is that of a new world being born out of the ashes of the old. And so the kinds of things we see in newspaper headlines are simply the first hints of labor. The full birth pains will come when Jesus returns.

The second thing Jesus highlights is that we should –

Expect persecution

Mark 13:9-13 – “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Jesus gives us another warning: The world will oppose us. Christians will be handed over, betrayed even by relatives. They will be beaten, put on trial, and some will be killed. We will be hated by all people.

This has happened all throughout history since the coming of Jesus.

  • In the first century the Roman emperor Nero persecuted and killed Peter and Paul and many others in the city of Rome.
  • In the 1500’s the first Mennonites suffered one of the most devastating examples of persecution in all of church history.
  • Today there are more martyrs than ever, and persecution abounds in various parts of the world even as we speak.

But he not only told us it would happen, Jesus tells us how to respond:

  1. We must endure, for the one who endures to the end will be saved. He’s saying, don’t let persecution cause you to renounce your faith; to turn away from him.
  2. We must fulfill God’s purpose of spreading the gospel to all nations. Even turning our persecution into an opportunity to witness for him.
  3. We must rely upon the Spirit to help us. For the Spirit will give us the words to say when we are put on trial; when we are put on the spot; when we are afraid.

[Just a note here: Jesus says, “The gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations” and as Matthew’s versions says, “then the end will come.” What I want to say is that this doesn’t set a time for Jesus to return that can be measured, so that we can say, “Hey, its done Jesus has to return now. Lets go sit on a hill and wait for him.” How do you measure this? Is it geographical, is it political – to every nation state, is it social – to every specific tribe? Its unclear. Paul said in Colossians 1:23 that in his own day the gospel had “been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” So it’s unclear.]

Alright, summing up Jesus’ initial response to the disciples –

What should we expect? The testing of our faith

Scripturally, the danger of living in the last days, like we do, is that we will lose our faith.

  • As Jesus says in Matthew 24:10 (Matthew’s version of the Olivet discourse) – “Many will fall away.”
  • As Paul says in I Timothy 4:1 – “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith . . ..”

As our verses today have shown us:

  • We can lose our faith if false messiahs, prophets or teachers lead us astray, and
  • We can lose our faith if persecution causes us not to endure

So Jesus warns us and encourages us in these verses to:

 Resist false teachers who raise alarm

And remain true to share the gospel amidst persecution

Next week – the “when” question. When will the temple be destroyed, and what is the connection of this to the end and Jesus’ return.

William Higgins

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The Kind of Leaders Jesus is Looking For

We are beginning a process of electing a new Elder in our congregation. And this is significant, because Elders are important leaders in a Christian congregation.

To help you as you think and pray about nominations for this, and to also help you more broadly on the topic of Christian leadership – I want us to focus in this morning on “The Kind of Leaders Jesus is Looking For.” 

Our Focus Text – Mark 10:42-45 

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” 

(more…)

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Jesus had a lot to say about children and we have looked at some of this – especially Jesus’ blessing of children. Today we look at Mark 9:33-37, a story that teaches us about the importance of ministering to children. Lets dig into this and see what we can learn from it.

Who is the greatest?

Our story begins with an argument – vs. 33-34 – “And they came to Capernaum. And when Jesus was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.”

This was not just petty vanity, you know, saying, “I’m smarter than you,” or “I look better than you.” Jesus is preparing for the kingdom of God and the disciples rightly expected to have a big role in that kingdom.

Jesus himself talks about greatness in the kingdom in several places. He talks about:

  • Those who will be the greatest in the kingdom – Matthew 23:11
  • Twelve thrones and those who will sit on these to rule over others – Matthew 19:28
  • Some sitting at his right and left hand when he is on his throne in the kingdom – Mark 10:40

So the disciples did think about these things and, of course, we find them arguing about this in several places.

In our story, no doubt, the fact that Jesus had just picked Peter, James and John to witness the transfiguration not long before had something to do with this debate about greatness.

The nine might well say, “Hey, are they better than us now?” The three may well have said, “Obviously we will have a higher place in the kingdom than you guys!”

And then add to this that the nine had failed to cast out a demon while Jesus and the other three were gone on the mountain of transfiguration. You can see how there could be tension.

When Jesus calls them on debating about this our text says, “they kept silent.” They apparently knew better than to be so openly ambitious; each putting themselves forward as the greatest.

By way of background, what we are dealing with here is a contrast of social standings on an honor/power scale:

  • You have those who are the first – in charge, with power – who are honored
  • And then you have those who are last – the lowly, the powerless – who are not honored

At the top of the scale – you are served. At the bottom of the scale – you serve.

Although it is a bit different today (we are not so hierarchical) it is still true today, just like back then that no one wanted to be a servant; to wait on others; to be lowly; to be at the bottom of this scale.

If you ask, how do you get honor & power? Well, according to the world you exalt yourself, put yourself forward, accumulate power and if you need to, put others down in order to lift yourself up.

And this is what the disciples were doing arguing with each other about who was the greatest. Maybe one said, “I’m have more spiritual gifts than you!” And another would say, “Oh yea, I’m more faithful than you!”

The true path to greatness: lowly service

Jesus confronts all this in v. 35 – “And Jesus sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’”

It says that Jesus “sat down.” In the culture of that day teachers sat to teach. He has something important to tell them.

The disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest, but Jesus says – “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (see also Mark 10:43-45 and Matthew 23:11-12).  Notice that Jesus doesn’t challenge looking for greatness, just how to find greatness. Although the world works one way, a different path is required if you want to be great in the kingdom.

What Jesus is saying is that:

  • To be great in the kingdom, you have to be lowly right now
  • To be first then, you have to be last now
  • To be honored then, you have to lower yourself before others now
  • To be powerful then, you have to learn to serve others now

Its a paradox: You find greatness in the kingdom by being the lowest here on earth. The kingdom turns things upside down, at least as with regards to how the world works.

So our first lesson from this scripture is – If you want to be great, lower yourself to serve others. To get to the top of the kingdom honor/power scale, you have to go the bottom of the world’s honor/power scale and serve others.

In the rest of this passage, Jesus fleshes this teaching out with . . .

An illustration: Ministering to children

v. 36 says, “And he took a child and put the child in the midst of them, and embracing the child, he said to them . . ..”
 Now the word “child” here refers to anyone between the age of an infant to a 12 year old. Basically below the age of adolescence or puberty. This is how the word is used in the gospels.

A little background here on children. Today, we think of childhood as an age of innocence and we give great value and honor to children, more so than other cultures today, and certainly more than what prevailed in the ancient world.

In biblical times children were way down the honor/power scale, if not at the very bottom. They were often seen as no more than slaves, until they grew up. You can see this in that the word “child” in Aramaic (the language of Jesus) is the same as that for “slave.” Also, in Galatians 4:1-2 – Paul talks about how, until a child grows up (even a rich heir), the child is not different than a slave.

Basically, children had no power, status or rights. They were non-persons being non-adults, and were under the complete authority of their parents.

So Jesus picks out a child, an example of lowliness and one who is a servant, and he says in the first part of v. 37, “’Whoever receives one such child in my name . . .’” “One such child” is a reference to the child next to Jesus (Luke 9:48), as well as other children.

What does it mean to receive a child?

  • The word “receive” means giving welcome. Jesus does this here by embracing the child.
  • Also, remembering that this is an example of v. 35, “receive” equals being a “servant of all,” which means taking care of their needs.
  • At least a part of this receiving is illustrated for us later in Mark 10:13-16. In contrast to the disciples who do not receive the children, Jesus receives them by giving kindness, attention, and ministering God’s blessing to them.

We do all of this serving “in Jesus’ name” as his representatives, doing what he would do in the situation.

Putting this all together, Jesus is saying more specifically, and this is our second lesson – If you want to be great – lower yourself even below children – and serve them. There are many lowly ones we can serve, but here he focuses on children.

The last part of v. 37 says, “’Whoever receives one such child in my name . . . receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’” We have here the “shaliach principle,” a well known idea in Judaism – “a person’s representative is as the person them self.” So how you respond to the representative is how you respond to the one who sent him.

Jesus uses this principle several times to talk about how it works when he sends out the apostles as his representatives. For instance Luke 10:16 teaches, if you receive them, you receive Jesus, if you reject them, you reject Jesus.

What is amazing here is that not only apostles, but also children are Jesus’ representatives! The disciples saw ministering to children in worldly terms as serving nobodies, doing what is menial and insignificant.

But Jesus puts this in a new light, and this is our third lesson – When we minister to lowly children, we are doing what is truly great – serving Jesus and indeed the Father. When we receive them, care for them and bless them, we are really doing all this to God. But, when we do not receive them, or mistreat them, this is really how we are treating God.

This speaks to how important it is to care for children’s needs and also to the fact that this is how we can be great in the kingdom. There is nothing greater than ministering to God.

Some words of encouragement

We have lots of opportunities to interact with children and minister to their needs. As parents, grandparents, those who work with children in their careers, children’s Sunday School workers, children’s church and nursery workers, workers in our two girls’ clubs, and our vacation bible school workers this week – we have many opportunities.

In all of these situations, when the children are acting up, when they are impatient, when they are difficult and even worse – remember, when you are serving children in Jesus’ name you are doing something great, ministering to Jesus and the Father. And you are doing what it takes to be great in the kingdom. William Higgins

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