Surviving Hard Times
Dr. Stephen Johnson
Mark 13:1-37
September 20, 2020

44 days.
That’s how long we have before the election which is supposed to bring the end of the US as we know it. It may be the end of the world as we know it. With all that is happening in the world is it possible that we are entering the end times?

Humanity seems to have turned against itself.
There are riots in the streets.

Nearly everyday we hear of more people killed by gun violence.

And nature is attacking with a vengeance.
A nasty virus has swept across the globe with no end in sight.
Fires rage in the west.
Hurricanes flood the south.

It leads many to ask: Could we be in the last days predicted in scripture?

The short answer to that question is yes.
We could be.
We might be.
Some say we are.

But there is no way to know for certain that these are the last days Christ predicted.

Our text for this morning contains what is called the Olivet Discourse. It is the teaching Jesus gave Peter, James, John and Andrew in response to this question:

“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Scripture isn’t explicit about what things the disciples were anticipating – in the verses at the beginning of the chapter Jesus spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem. But the destruction of Jerusalem is not what Jesus referred to in answering the question. Jesus took the disciples to the end of the age.

And He gave the disciples tidbits of information which has excited Christians for 2000 years. Ever since the gospels were put to paper, its readers have sought to interpret the signs for evidence that the end of the age is near.

Here are some of the signs Jesus said indicate that the end is approaching:

There will be false teachers who will lead many astray. V5

There will be many claiming to be Christ. V6

There will be wars and rumors of war. V7
Nation will rise up against nation. V8

There will be earthquakes and famines V8

Christians will be delivered over to councils V9
They will be beaten V10

They will stand before governors and kings to bear witness V9

The gospel will be preached to all nations v10

Families will turn against one another V12

We will be hated because we take the name of Christ v13
The abomination of desolation will occur v14

(I love the parenthetical statement in verse 14 (let the reader understand) For 2000 years we’ve been trying to understand it! And I’m not sure we are any closer to understanding this passage now than when Jesus first taught it to his disciples.

Jesus goes on to describe a time which is the worst the world has ever seen. V19

There will be great tribulation in the world V24

The sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, and stars will fall from heaven. V24-25

And then the return of Christ will come with great power and glory V26

And angels will gather the elect. V27

And as if that isn’t confusing enough Jesus adds these words:

When you see these things taking place you know that the end is near. V29

But the kicker to me comes in verse 32: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.”

So I’ve got a good idea, let’s read the signs of the times and try to discern if we are indeed living in the end of the age.

Or maybe not. Maybe, just maybe we should glean from this chapter the instructions Jesus gives for surviving uncertain times.

What Jesus did at the Olivet Discourse was to describe a time which would be a terrible time. A time when the future was fairly unclear - and clearly unfair. A time such as that in which we live.

I believe that the intent of this teaching is not to draw a road map to the end of the age, but to instruct us on how to live faithful lives in times of uncertainty which could be the final acts of history.

Three times in this chapter Jesus returns to a phrase which ought to grab our attention.

He begins with verse 9 “But be on you guard.”

Then verse 23 “But be on guard.”

And finally in verse 33 “Be on guard. Keep awake.”

How do we live in uncertain times? It starts by continuing to be on guard.

Verses 9-13 give us three areas of life to guard.

Verses 14-27 give us three reasons to stay on guard.

And verse 28-37 give a final motivation for being on guard.

Three things to guard during uncertain times (and all the time really!)

History shows us that during uncertain times people look for scapegoats.

We all look for someone to blame.
It has always been that way.

In the classic George Orwell novel “Animal Farm” a satire about the Russian Revolution and the rise of communism, the scapegoat is Snowball.
Blamed for everything that went wrong after the animals took over the farm.

When Rome burned it was the Christians who were blamed.

The fires raging in the west could be caused by climate change (we’re all responsible) or maybe they are caused by poor forest management.
(And here I thought fires were caused by sparks.)

And is the spread of Covid 19 the fault of China?
Or maybe it’s Trump’s fault.

We all want a scapegoat.

And in uncertain times leading up to the end of the age, Jesus warns us that increasingly we, followers of Christ, will become the scapegoat of choice.

In verses 9-13 Jesus talks about how the world will turn against his followers and in doing so gives us three areas of life which we should guard.

1st we must guard our testimony.

We will be called to defend our faith. Before councils, before governors and kings. Before all nations. We will testify. And we will do it whether we like it or not because we will be forced to.

So guard your testimony. In uncertain times we will need to live out our testimony.

Our creed must match our conduct.

We must practice what we preach.

Our walk must reflect our talk.

Which is the second thing we must guard. Our tongue. Our talk. Our conversation.

2nd we must guard our tongue.

We are going to bear witness to Christ.

We are going to be asked to defend our faith.

We will be required to speak on behalf of what we believe.
We are going to face men who will ridicule
Men who want to make us look like fools

So we better guard our tongues – guard them from speaking evil and speaking falsehoods.

And we are going to have to depend upon the Holy Spirit to lead us.

But if we aren’t walking in the Spirit before we are called to defend our faith, how will be walk with him in times of uncertainty?

As long as you have been consistent in walking in the Spirit you will have nothing to worry about

Your bible study will come back and the Spirit will give you the words to speak
We need to guard our tongues.

James tells us that the tongue is a deadly poison
It is a flaming fire and it must be brought under control

With the tongue we can lead men to Christ or we can drive them away from Him.

We must guard our tongues

The third area we need to guard is who we trust.

3rd we must guard who we trust

Jesus also tells us that there will come a time when our friends and our family will betray us.

When those we thought we could trust will turn into our enemies.

So guard who you trust. As much as we want to trust our family and close friends, Jesus warns us that in uncertain times family harmony is a myth.

Our trust must be placed in Christ before family.

In uncertain times we are warned to guard three areas of life, our testimony, our tongues and our trust.

Verses 14-27 give us three reasons to stay on guard.

1st we stay on guard because the end of the age will be a terrible time. V14-20

I don’t intend in this message to delve into what the abomination of desolation is, that is a discussion for another time. But what we know is that whenever that happens we are told to flee to the mountains.

To make haste to get out of the area – without concern for what we bring with us. Just flee.

Hope your aren’t pregnant.

Pray that it doesn’t happen in winter.

And remember that if the days weren’t cut short by God we would all die.

2nd we stay on guard because that is how we remain faithful

In verse 22 Jesus returns to a theme he started back in verse 5. People will seek to take advantage of uncertain times and mislead many.

We must be on guard because that is how we will remain faithful.

He has told us everything in advance v23

People will try to deceive us. So stay on guard. Guard your faith.

Ask where it is written before accepting what a teacher says.

And if they can’t support their position through scripture don’t fall prey to their false teaching.

We can be prepared since we know there will be false teachers.

There will be those who will claim Christ has returned.

There will be those who will claim that they will save us.

But the only one who can save us wont come quietly. He wont be elected.

He will come with the shout of the archangel. Descending from the clouds with great power and glory.

We stay on guard so that we stay faithful.

We know that uncertain times bring great stress and wolves who will appear to be lambs.

In uncertain times we guard our faith specifically because in uncertain times our faith must be certain.

The third reason to stay on guard is because

3rd we stay on guard because the end of the age is reason for hope not panic.

No matter how bad things get in the world, there is coming a time when the Son of Man will come in the clouds with great power and glory.

Angels will gather the elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From red states and blue states. From North America and South America, From Europe and Asia. From Africa and India. From every tribe and every nation. From every tongue the elect will be gathered.

This is a reason for hope not panic. Gone will be the divisions which give us reason to argue and fight with one another. And in its place love, forgiveness and acceptance will rule the world.

Peace will descend upon earth. Not because the right person has been elected to office but because Jesus is coming back!
Now, before I close, our text gives us one final motivation for staying on guard.

Because no one knows the day or the hour that Christ will return.

Be on guard. Stay awake. You don’t know when Christ will return.

When he returns you don’t want to be found asleep.

Jesus isn’t talking about literal sleep.

He is not suggesting that we have to load up on the caffeine.

He is calling us to be faithful always.

To not buy into the idea that we can just fool around because the signs aren’t right.

When I was in college I had a summer job as a janitor in a local school. My brother worked there year round, and one summer I was hired on to help prepare the school for the fall.

My boss was a Christian man names Roscoe Fischer. He went on vacation that summer. A three week vacation. And he told us what he expected us to accomplish before he returned.

Strip the hall floors and rewax them.

We had three weeks to do what should have taken about 3 days.

So we proceeded to fool around for two weeks. We played basketball. Dodgeball. And we slept. I don’t remember all the things we did to fill the days. At the beginning of the third week of Roscoe’s vacation we started working on the floors.

And apparently vacation didn’t suit Roscoe, because he came back three whole days early – when we were only about halfway finished with the job.

We had fallen asleep on the job. And although we deserved to be fired we weren’t.

Jesus doesn’t say what his response will be when he returns to find us sleeping.

He just says this:

What I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!

Because Jesus is coming again.

The future may be black with tragedy
The last days may be upon us
But we are not to panic.
Jesus has given us a way to face the unknown future

Be on guard.
See to it that no one misleads you
God is still God
He is still on the throne
He is still in control

In the words of
Habakkuk 3:17-19

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.

The great hope of the church is the return of Christ.


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