Are You Religious?
Text: Mark 13:1-23
Proposition: We are all religious, it is in our very nature to want to know where we came from, why we are here and what comes next, great spiritual questions.
Introduction: Has anybody ever asked you the question, “So, are you a religious person?” I think that whenever I’ve heard that I tend to kick back against it. I don’t want to think of myself as religious because of the images that come to mind with that word. My faith in Jesus Christ isn’t associated to purple robes or large golden crucifixes or smoldering incense. I’ve heard the accusation many times that religion is the cause of all mankind’s problems, as if we could somehow remove religion from ourselves and then the world of nations and traditions would suddenly move in harmonious co-existence. How foolish! The truth of the matter is that we are all religious, even the most atheistic of us approaches that system of belief with a religious ferocity. We are all religious, it is in our very nature to want to know where we came from, why we are here and what comes next. It involves the unseen as much as the seen. To be ‘religious’ means that we have beliefs about God and methods for upholding those beliefs, whether that be personal or communal. But clearly belief and the practice of it, are not an end in themselves. If I choose to lift up a twig and call it god, if I place it in the most expensive of places and treat it with great respect, it is still in the end nothing more than the truth of where it came from. It’s a twig! Ultimately all our religious behavior and quest must be founded around this most fundamental of beginning points… ‘Is what I pursue in my religious expression founded upon what I prefer or is it founded upon what is true?’ Have a look at a passage of Scripture with me this morning that records a conversation about this very topic. Jesus and the disciples have been together for almost three years and are now in Jerusalem. It is but a few days before Jesus will die on the cross. Soon they will see the Resurrection, soon they will know what it means to live by faith in a world that has a chaotic core. So Jesus puts truth in front of them and He calls them to act on this truth in all their religious response to the world. Turn to Mark 13 as we see what happens next.
I. Reality Is Greater Than What You Can See.
In Matthews account Jesus had just made the statement about how often He had wanted to gather the people of Jerusalem to Himself as a hen gathers her chicks, yet the people would not respond. Then He says, “See, your house is left to you desolate, for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” Desolate? The disciples couldn’t comprehend the reality of the Temple being desolate, they point to the incredible edifice of the Temple and say, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” There are a lot of things that our eyes have seen that we couldn’t imagine not being there… the Berlin Wall, the Twin Towers in New York, GM stock at $120 a share… there are many symbols of permanence that can no longer be seen. The Temple was like that and more, it wasn’t just a wonder of the world kind of building, it was the center of worship for millions of people around the then known world. Every synagogue that was ever built, ever has been built, is oriented towards Jerusalem and to the place the Temple occupied in it. The Temple was the epicenter for the worship of God Almighty, how could this ever be left desolate? Jesus tells them that the extent of the desolation is that not one stone, and these were chiseled stones some 40 feet of more in length, 5 feet wide and as much high, not one stone will be left upon another. That’s the reality of what Jesus sees and it’s greater than what the disciples saw. The reality and truth that God sees and through His Word proclaims is very different than what we typically call reality. In other words reality and truth are absolutes. Like a wrist watch, reality and truth simply proclaim what is. This is strange talk in a day when reality and truth are considered to be either irrelevant or a construct that each of us makes. But Jesus often spoke about reality and truth in matter of fact kind of ways, He described past history, He referred to events that were forty years yet future for them, He even describes events that may yet be forty years away from where we sit here this morning, all of it just as He said it would be.
II. Jesus Describes Reality From the Ascension To The Second Coming.
Jesus leads the disciples out from the Temple and they go down across the Kidron Valley and sitting on the slopes of the Mount of Olives looking at the city, several of them approach Him and ask about when this destruction of Temple will occur. In the next verses Jesus tells them what He sees as the reality of what will occur, but He does not distinguish from present tense future, that is what occurs in the life time of the disciples, and future tense future. In verses 6-13 He describes that which these men and women will experience as the beach head of Christianity. Briefly He describes it like this:
1. Deceptive leaders who are both self deluded and self promoting.
2. Political upheaval in small and large scale.
3. Natural disaster in greater frequency, earthquakes, famines, storms.
4. Religious and political persecution for the disciples of Christ.
5. The effective communication and convincing of the gospel message globally.
6. The increasing need to rely upon God for His purposes to be achieved.
7. The effect of faith will create strife within families
8. The name of Jesus will be a stumbling block, and disciples will be hated.
9. The ability to endure the most difficult of circumstance is part of salvation.
These things the disciples will endure, it is through these times that they will see the walls of the Temple torn down in AD 70. From Ad 68 to 80 famine, earthquakes and wars ravaged the world. Mount Vesuvius erupted in the summer of AD 79. These are the reality that Jesus sees will take place after His death on the Cross, Resurrection and Ascension during the lifetime of these disciples. But then Jesus extends the range of the prophecy, and as prophecy so often does, it gives more than what the person was looking for. Prophecy is often described as a person standing on top of a mountain range and looking at the peaks of the next three of four ranges of mountains. What is seen describes the peaks as being part of one picture but it omits the intervening valleys between the ranges. So you may get descriptions of times that are separated by great spans of time and yet they are all described as one flowing event. For example in Isaiah 11:1-4 the first and second coming of Christ are combined, the same in Isaiah 61:1,2. Similar examples are in 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Malachi 3:1,2. This is what happens in verses 14-23, they describe a time long after the Temple has been destroyed, they describe the time just before the Second Coming of Jesus. Look at how He lays this out:
1. The abomination of desolation occurs, again! The first time in fulfillment to Daniels prophecy occurred 160 years before Christ was born. Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the first Jewish Temple and instigated the Maccabean revolt. The second abomination of desolation is when the anti-christ again enters the temple, possibly the third Temple, and demands worhip as God. This is likely just at what I would call the mid point of the Tribulation.
2. For the Jewish people this will lead to a time of unparalleled persecution, even greater than what Nazi Germany perpetrated.
3. The tumult of those days is not just political and spiritual, it is also geological. Floods, celestial uncertainties, famines, disease… all will increase to the point that the demise of the human race is seen as imminent.
4. It will be in those days that, as crisis leads to crisis, many potential deliverers will arise proclaiming that they have the way out of this mess. Because of crisis people will sacrifice the beliefs and values previously held and will put extraordinary faith and power in these individuals. From this pool of leadership will be some who will be spiritually deluded to think that they are the Messiah.
5. Great discernment and a knowledge of what the truth is through an understanding of the Scripture will be essential if people are to navigate their way safely through the fog of deception, sign and wonders that will mark the false leadership of these last days.
That’s the reality of what Jesus says is. There is much that we can do as people of the Book, people that have been called to be light in times of darkness, salt in times that are spiritually bland, a preservative in times of decay. Are you a religious person? I hope that your answer is yes, I hope that it is based on truth rather than your opinion, that it is much, much greater than you. I hope that your faith is in Christ and in His work of redemption for us on the cross and through the resurrection. I hope you are ready for when He comes again!