Signs and the end.  What is the connection?

Mark 13:1-13

November 15th & 16th, 2009


                "There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers."  Philip Franklin, White Star Line vice- President.  Just months later Titanic sunk.   " Frank Knox, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, said these words on December 4, 1941: "Whatever happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping."  Three days later Pearl Harbor was attacked.   Structural engineers who designed the World Trade Center Twin Towers carried out studies in the mid-1960s to determine how the buildings would fare if hit by large jetliners. In all cases the studies concluded that the Towers would survive the impacts and fires caused by the jetliners.   On September 11th, 2001 those predications proved tragically incorrect.  What seemed solid and certain, proved in the end not to be as rock solid as they thought.  The disciples of Jesus asked him a simple question about the temple.  It was a massive structure.  It had  huge stone blocks some 37 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 12 feet wide.   If there was one thing the disciples could count on, it would be the massive structure.   They say Jesus “Do you see these great buildings”.   Jesus responds “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down”.   Seventy  years later it Rome would ransack Jerusalem, and the prophesy literally proved true.           While the conversation starter “look at these beautiful buildings”, was not intended  to result in a discussion of end of the world, Jesus then took them that direction.  He then describes various signs, not so we can mark in our calendar when it will happen, but rather so we as God’s dearly loved people are not shocked and alarmed when it looks like the world is out of control.  When we as his followers encounter the shakiness of resting our lives on things that seem solid, but in the end prove not to be so.  Yet, he promises “The one who endures to the end will be saved”.    He warns his followers about the deceptions of religious figures and religions who make Jesus like claims.  He speaks of the political word, and how wars and rumors of wars will not end.  He speaks of creation itself out of balance, through earthquakes, famines and the like.  He then gets personal by speaking of persecutions in society, and even in ones immediate family.   Yet, in the end he says the one who endures to the end will be saved.   The question is how can we stand up and  stand firm, when these end time conflicts are not just written in some book, but are personally experienced in oru lives.  When the things we counted on, the things we are sure of, start crumbling around us?     

            Jesus moves from an innocent questions about buildings, to a discussion on the end times.  The disciplies want to write it down in their calendar, nice to plan for something like that.  Rather then give them exact times, Jesus lays out the kind of challenges they will face.       The first sign will be one of deception.    The deception gets at the core of our faith.   Who is Jesus? Might there be others who “do a better” job than the Savior who atoned for the sins of the world on the cross of calvary?  Whenever I hear  about some human being claiming to be the Messiah , I think who would do something like that?   “ Yet, they do by the thousands and millions.  In our generation there have been individuals who literally claimed to be the Messiah’s in David Koresh of the Branch Dividian Fame.  Sun Yung Moon, the leader of the Unification Church,  and even Marshal Apple white of the heaven’s gate cult.   I have a book titled, the kingdom of the cults where millions of people worldwide have followed  various false Messiah’s  other then the crucified and risen one for the sins of the world.   Many of these members are deeply sincere, incredibly their “religion”, but in the end they are simply deceived.  Jesus says John 14:6  in I am the way the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through me.  1 Timothy 1:5 “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men t, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all. 

            There are also political signs.  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  Civil wars, nation ward, terrorist conflicts.  According to global there are presently 44 conflicts of some sort going on throughout the world at this time.  Generations are rarely immune from such conflict, and when conflict between nations does not exist there is always one bubbling up.  Trust in the political process, like trusting in the great temple buildings will prove futile in the end.  Yet, don’t be alarmed,for these signs are but birth pangs.    Then end is not there. 

            We  move from religious deceptions, national conflicts, and now to the earth itself in disarray.   We learn from the book of Romans that not only is humanity waiting for its redemption but so is creation (Romans 8:22).  Famines, earthquakes, floods, immense forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, all in disarray, and yet Jesus says “don’t be alarmed”.  These realities are merely the birth pangs of things to come.  

            The signs, and conflicts move from the general and big to the personal.  He speaks of persecutions of various sorts.    I have a book here titled “The Voices of the Martyrs.  In it he describes present day life and death struggles of faith.  In an eighth  month period in 2004 1500 Christians and eight pastors lost their lives in Nigeria.  In this time period 173 church’s were destroyed, and more than 25,00 people were displaced from their homes.   In North Korea it is believed that an estimated 100,000 Christians and families of Christians are locked away in prison camps.  The carrying of Bibles, passing out of Christian literature, and other public expressions of Christian faith are prohibited and punishable by imprisonment in that country.     For these Christians these words of Jesus are very real.        Jesus says the one who endures to the end will be saved?  But how, how can this happen.  How can one bear up under such duress? 

            The story is told of pioneers who were making their way across one of the central states to a distant place that had been opened up for homesteading.  They traveled in covered wagons drawn by oxen, and progress was necessarily slow.  One day they were horrified to note a long line of smoke in the west, stretching for miles across the prairie, and soon it was evident that the dried grass was burning fiercely and coming toward them rapidly.  They had crossed a river the day before but it would be impossible to go back before the flames would be upon them.  One man only seemed to have understanding as to what could be done.  He gave the command to set fire to the grass behind them.  Then when a space was burned over, the whole company moved back upon it.  As the flames roared on toward them from the west, a little girl cried out in terror, “Are you sure we shall not all be burned up?”  The leader replied, “My child, the flames cannot reach us there, for we are standing where the fire has been!”   WE can endure, because Jesus has already endured all the judgment on Calvary’s cross.  It is because of him, we have a safe refuge in the midst of personal, political, religious, and even family related issues that seemingly could overwhelm and consume us.   The fire has already burned, and in Jesus alone we are protected.  That folks is his promise.  In one of my favorite passages   1 Corinthians 1:8 says “He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, for God is faithful…”  Amen.