Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel Reading from Mark 13:1-13. Our text begins with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple and then moves to a discussion of how the end times will impact the world and those in it. Let’s look more carefully at the text and see what Jesus has to teach us.
1. The text begins with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple: And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 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” (Mark 13:1-2). As Jesus and his disciples exit the temple of the Tuesday of Holy Week, the disciples were looking around and admiring the temple complex. I have to imagine that Jesus might have been taking the scene in as well, knowing that he would never again set foot in this incredible structure. And Herod’s Temple was quite an incredible structure and an amazing feat of engineering. Notice how verse 1 of our text makes note of the “wonderful stones” which the disciple sees. This is with good reason. The historian Josephus, in his work titled, “Jewish War,” tells us that some of the stones used in the temple’s construction were utterly massive—up to 68 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 6 feet tall. To give you a picture of how large that is, the pews here in our sanctuary are about 10 feet wide, so that would be about the width of the stones. I am about 6 feet tall, so that would be the approximate height. To picture the length, 68 feet is the approximate distance from the front chancel wall all the way back to the mailboxes in the hallway. Those were some massive stones! And the buildings that made up the temple complex were just as impressive. The main building in the temple complex was the temple building itself, which contained the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies inside the building and the altar for burnt offerings just outside. This building all together had a slightly larger footprint than an American Football field. But if that wasn’t enough, the entire complex, which was surrounded by a gigantic wall, was a massive rectangle that was about a quarter of a mile long! Needless to say, the disciples had every reason to focus on this structure, almost to the point of being overwhelmed by how impressive it was. But Jesus, as he has a habit of doing, invites his disciples to focus on something beyond their immediate surroundings. So, Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple, which would occur in AD 70 and would soon to prompt a much deeper conversation.
2. The story picks up in verse 3 a short while later: And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, 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?” (Mark 13:3-4). Picture the scene, Jesus and a few of the disciples are sitting on the Mount of Olives, looking across the Kidron Valley at Jerusalem, and at the Temple specifically. The disciples’ minds must have been going wild trying to imagine how this great structure could be destroyed. So, they ask Jesus about it: “When will this happen? And how will we know it’s about to happen?” Notice two things: First, the disciples are concerned with the temple and their specific times. Second, Jesus will only answer their second question. He won’t tell them when, but he will give them signs. And, in doing so, they will learn more than simply about the destruction of the temple. Jesus answers them beginning in verse 5: 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” (Mark 13:5-6). How often do we see something similar in our world today where preachers, claiming to speak on behalf of Christ himself, lead innocent, unsuspecting people astray? To quote the Lutheran New Testament commentator RCH Lenski, “Some are petty and have their own little sects, some are out for the hard cash, and others are grand like the popes in their long succession.” Such false teachers and deceivers will go on to the end of time. So, Jesus’ warning is to watch out so that you aren’t led astray. But Jesus gets to the main thrust of his first point, beginning in verse 7: “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” (Mark 13:7-8). Often times we think only of how sin affects human beings—us specifically. But the reality is that sin has deeply corrupted all aspects of our world—both the world of men and the world of nature. And so, as time progresses in the era after Christ’s earthly ministry, the corruption of this world will continue to wreak havoc on all of creation both in the form of human conflict and of natural disaster. These things will happen—don’t be surprised when they do. In fact, Jesus says it is necessary that these things take place. Why is it necessary? It’s necessary based on the condition of the world and on God’s judgment upon that condition. And so, as God’s people, we are called to live in a world on which God’s judgment is coming. Because of that judgment and the sin which brings God’s judgment, troubles in this life will come. They will seek to overwhelm us. That’s part of living in a sin-filled world. Our natural response to these troubles is to feel overwhelmed by them. When we see and experience the human conflict and the natural disasters around us, we can’t help but feel it. Often times, the troubles of this life overwhelm us with anxiety and worry. We can’t free ourselves from this sinful condition—either the inward sinful condition or the outward sinful condition. So, what do we do? Jesus has something to say about that in what follows.
3. Beginning in verse 9, Jesus continues: “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” (Mark 13:9-13). In this final section of our text, Jesus starts by reaffirming the points he has just made. Troubles will come in this life. The specific examples given here are spoken directly to the disciples. Jesus tells them that they will face persecution from governments and other such things. The same may not be exactly true for you and me. In fact, most of us will likely not experience troubles in this exact way. However, we will experience troubles of various kinds. And Jesus tells his disciples that through those troubles they will have an opportunity to bear witness to Christ before others. In fact, it is necessary that the Gospel be proclaimed to and shared with all nations before the end of time. But what Jesus says next is of utmost importance. When these troubles happen, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious.” Why? Because “it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” In other words, the Holy Spirit is at work in and through all kinds of troubling situations which overwhelm us and cause us to be anxious and to worry. The Holy Spirit is at work, even in those situations. At the very end of our text, Jesus says, “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” My friends, our hope is this: not in our faithful endurance, but in Christ’s. Christ endured to the end of his life and ministry. Even as he hung on the cross with the weight of the world’s sin on his shoulders, he never surrendered. Christ endured to the end, and on Easter morning he overcame the power of death guaranteeing that the same will be true for us. My friends, this is how we endure to the end. We let Christ’s resurrection be our strength. It’s so easy to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the troubles of life. We are so quickly overcome by feelings of anxiety and worry. But Christ’s words to his disciples in Mark 13 offer us instruction and guidance. It’s easy to focus on the world around us and the things which we cannot control. Christ’s words encourage us to focus on the one who is in control. So, be as faithful as you can. Repent and receive his forgiveness when you sin. Share the good news of Jesus with those who need it. And focus on Christ and his Spirit who is at work even when we can’t see it.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.