Apocalypse Later

by Jason Micheli

Length: 27:09

Mark 13  (click to see Scripture text)

November 14, 2021

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Here’s the deal.

First things first.

I need to hand over the goods. I need to deliver to you a promise. Unless you have received a promise from Jesus Christ, unless you’re holding fast to the Gospel promise, then Christ’s sermon today in Mark will blow you over. Without a firm grip on the promise, you are liable to hear Christ’s sermon the way the first disciples heard Christ’s sermon. But a great distance separates us from the first disciples and a cross stands between us. 

So in the name of Jesus Christ and by his authority alone, I declare to you that you have died. 

You have already died the only death that ultimately matters. This is the promise Christ gives to Paul to announce to the Church at Corinth, “Because the one man died for all, all have died.” 

All have died with him. 

All have died in him. 

All have died to sin. 

Therefore, when it comes to the matter of you meeting the holy and righteous Maker of Heaven and Earth, you don’t actually have much of a problem. We continue to call ourselves sinners, to be sure, but we do so to locate ourselves in the story not because we are sinners. This is the promise God gives to Isaiah to deliver, the promise that the Reformers said was the cornerstone to all the scriptures. “The Lord has laid on him,” Isaiah promises, “the iniquity of us all.” 

The Lord has laid— that’s the past perfect tense. 

It’s a once for all finished deed. 

The Lord has laid on who? 

On him. 

On Christ Jesus. 

The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us—- that means us. 

Of us all. 

Or, as Paul paraphrases this very promise from Isaiah, “God made him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”

God made him to be sin. 

He’s it. 

He’s the lamb God sends to take away the sins of the whole world. 

And he didn’t miss any. 

You see—

The promise of the Gospel isn’t simply that Jesus is a substitute for sinners. Jesus is not a stand-in for sinners. Jesus is not just a sinner or any sinner. Jesus is not only the greatest and gravest of sinners; though, when he gets up out of the Jordan River, having been baptized with John’s baptism of repentance, that’s who Jesus is henceforth.

No— 

The promise of the Gospel, the promise Christ has given me to announce to you today— before you risk hearing his fire and brimstone sermon— the promise is that Jesus Christ is now and forever the only sinner. 

In all of the Father’s creation there is only one sinner. 

And it’s the Father’s only begotten Son. 

With this promise, you’re now ready to hear Christ’s sermon from Mark 13. Scholars refer to this sermon as the Little Apocalypse. In fact, Paul says that when you cling to your baptism, when you trust the promise that you have died, the apocalypse has already come to you: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old creation has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 

Isn’t it funny how we persist in thinking of Jesus primarily as a teacher of golden rules and a dispenser of good deeds when Jesus’s longest discourse, by far, in Mark’s Gospel is this sermon that makes the latest Halloween film seem tame by comparison. Remembering that the death of Christ is your universal safe harbor, I invite you now to listen to the Word of God as it’s found in Mark 13: 

“As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs…

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name…

Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days…

And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect…

‘But in those days, after that suffering, 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…

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Aren’t you glad I gave you the promise up front?

This is the Word of God for the People of God. 

Thanks be to God. 

———————-

During his three year ministry, Jesus has spent a lot of his time at the temple; so that, by the time we get to the cusp of the passion story, Jesus is like Peter Finch in Network. He’s mad as hell and he’s not going take it anymore. 

Jesus has just been condemning the temple guild for “devouring the homes of widows,” widows like the old lady with the pocket change she set aside from her old man’s pension. Yet the disciples manage once again to miss the point. As soon as they march out of the temple Jesus has just condemned as the first century equivalent of a payday lender, the disciples start admiring its architecture. 

“Teacher, look, what large stones and what large buildings!”

“Let me tell you about those buildings. It’s all going to come crumbling down.”

Jesus says no more until they come to the Mount of Olives, the place where the prophet Zechariah had proclaimed God’s messiah would commence his saving work. “Lo, the Day is surely coming,” Zechariah prophesies, “On that day the Lord’s feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two.” 

Stones will be turned, one upon another. 

So it’s not surprising that, as they sit on the Mount of Olives looking across the valley at the edifice Christ has just said will soon be eradicated, they’d get to thinking about what Zechariah called the Day of the Lord, the time when God will come again to judge the quick and the dead. No sooner has Jesus just predicted the temple’s destruction than they’re sitting at ground zero for God’s mushroom cloud-laying messiah. In other words, it’s a rather obvious question the disciples ask. 

“When?” 

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

And immediately Jesus cracks the whip, chastising his disciples “Do not be led astray by asking ‘When?’” 

“Only the Father knows the day and the hour,” Jesus preaches at the end of his fire and brimstone sermon. 

That is— 

“When?” is a question that cannot be answered; therefore, “When?” is a question that should not be asked. 

Do not be led astray by the when question, Jesus warns. 

There will be wars and rumors of more. There will be earthquakes and famines and floods. There will be plagues and pandemics and polarized families. There will be grifting prophets and phony preachers. It’s going to get worse before God makes all things new. All the bad that’s certain to be is but the beginning of the birth pangs. 

Do not get distracted, trying to read the signs of the times, Jesus scolds. 

Do not get preoccupied, attempting to make predictions, Jesus reprimands. 

Do not be led astray by asking “When?”

When are you coming again?

When will be the End? 

———————-

Nonetheless, Jesus would make an absolutely horrible HR director. He’s a rotten evaluator of talent. Down through the years, the rest of his recruits have proven to be every bit as bad at heeding his words as the initial dozen. 

I mean— despite this unambiguous rebuke from Jesus, for two thousand years his friends have frittered away their time and squandered much of their witness, busying themselves with the one question Christ Jesus commands us clearly not to probe. 

When will this be?

What will be the signs of the end time?

For example, the year 500 AD proved too auspicious to avoid speculation. Long before Dan Brown or that purple haired lady on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, ancient Church Fathers— legitimate thinkers and leaders— like Hippolytus of Rome and Irenaeus of Lyon predicted Christ would come again in the year 500. And they attempted to prove their prediction by “decoding” the dimensions of Noah’s ark. Pope Sylvester II predicted the apocalypse would occur at the turn of the first millennium, Y1K. When Jesus did not come again to judge the living and the dead, Sylvester and others regrouped and insisted that the only detail they’d gotten wrong was the starting point. The End would come not a thousand years after Jesus’s birth as they’d thought but a thousand years after his death, 1033 AD. Joachim of Fiore was a Catholic mystic who discovered what he called the secret “eternal gospel” in the Book of Revelation, 14:6. According to him, Christ would come back and inaugurate the Age of the Spirit in 1260 AD. 

Flash forward a couple hundred years and it gets worse. 

Thomas Muntzer was an Anabaptist in Germany— a Mennonite— who scoured the scriptures to interpret the signs of his time. Muntzer became convinced that the world teetered at a tipping point. He predicted that the New Age would arrive in the year 1525. The revolutionary furor his prediction unleashed ignited a violent rebellion by the peasants in central Germany. The revolt was quelled with equally great violence.  The when question led Thomas Muntzer was led astray and before he knew it ploughshares and pruning hooks were being beaten into swords. 

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement— otherwise, kind of a normie guy, he got led astray too. He read a verse— a single verse— in Revelation and came to the conclusion that the apocalypse would be in 1836. Not long after Wesley, a Baptist preacher named William Miller led a movement of believers called the Millerites. 

William Miller got more specific than any Christian heretofore had dared. Based on his idiosyncratic reading of Daniel 8, William Miller insisted that the Lord would return (to upstate New York) on October 22, 1844. As it turns out, the most remarkable event that happened on October 22, 1844 was that President James Polk had urinary bladder stones removed. Well, the bladder stones came in second place after what the press dubbed “The Great Disappointment” referring to Miller’s failed prediction. The Great Disappointment didn’t stop William Miller though; his movement of Millerites became known as the Seventh Day Adventist Church. 

Christians on cable television went nuts as the year 2000 approached. When Barack Obama became president, Jerry Falwell predicted the End was nigh.

And maybe you recall—

Family Radio host and self-taught Bible expert, Harold Camping, predicted the rapture would happen on May 21, 2011, paving the way for the destruction of the world’s remaining sinners a few months later on October 21, 2011. Harold Camping led hundreds, likely more, so astray they quit their jobs, left their families, sold their homes, and cashed out their 401Ks in anticipation of the end times. As a result, one of Camping’s coworkers committed suicide. 

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

———————-

When it comes to Christ’s Second Advent, there’s a better question to ask than “When?” Not only is it a better question to ask, it’s a question Christ does not forbid us to ask. The question we should ask is not “When?” but “Why?” 

Why has the End with a capital E not yet come? 

Why has Christ not yet come again? 

Why does God give more time?

Remember— 

The Bible is absolutely unique in the history of religion. Unlike the paganism of ancient Rome and Greece, the scriptures do not view the universe as eternal. Likewise, the Bible departs from eastern religions which understand existence as circular, an endless cycling loop of reincarnations. No, the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of John alike claim that creation had a beginning. Before anything was God spoke all that is into existence. Creation had a beginning and, thus, creation will have an end. Time, according to Christianity, is less like the reliable constancy of grandfather clock and more like the sand in an hour glass. 

Time will run out. 

Just as there was a first day, one day there will be a last day. God is bringing history to a head. This is what Paul means when he writes to the Church at Rome, “Your salvation is nearer than when you first believed.” As we pray at the table, one day Christ will come back in final victory, time will be transformed into glory, and we will, as the catechism puts it, enjoy him forever. 

Why the meantime? 

Why does time not simply stop? 

Why does God let history continue? 

What else is there for God to do? Christ himself says from his cross, “It is finished.” And on his way to the cross, Jesus declares, “Take heart. I have overcome the world!” 

So why?

Why does God give us more time?

What else is there for God to do?

He’s already given himself for sins, once for all. As the author of the Book of Hebrews says, Christ our Great High Priest has offered a perfect sacrifice such that, now, his work forever complete, he sits at the Father’s right hand, resting with his feet propped up on his enemies— Sin, Death, and the Devil. They are now his ottoman. If there is therefore now nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, what in the world is left for God to do?

Why the delay?

Why does God give us more time? 

What is still going on that absolutely must be done?

———————-

When I was a student at Princeton, I attended a series of lectures the late Lutheran theologian, Robert Jenson, delivered for undergraduates and faculty members. Though the attendees recognized that Jenson was one of the most brilliant theologians America has ever produced, not every one in the lecture hall was open or hospitable to the claims of Christianity. 

Some listeners, though curious, were openly hostile to the Gospel. 

One skeptical student in the audience persisted in trying to poke holes in Jenson’s arguments. “Doesn’t the New Testament indicate that the world was about to end? Didn’t Paul and the apostles expect Christ to return in their lifetimes? Didn’t Jesus even suggest the apocalypse was imminent? Why has God delayed?”

And Jenson revealed the slightest crease of a smile, and he responded nonchalantly to the skeptic’s question with a brilliant six word reply. 

“Why has God waited? 

His answer: 

1) Because

2) He

3) Wanted

4) To

5) Include

6) You

Why the meantime? 

Because he wants to include you. 

He wants you in him who is our universal safe harbor. He wants you to hear that heaven is a gift everyone already has by the death of the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He wants you to hear that your sinful deeds will not be judged because the whole world died to the Law by the Body of Christ. He wants you to hear your good deeds are not required nor will they be rewarded for Christ is the end of the Law; so that, everyone who believes may be justified. He wants you to reach out by faith and cling to this, the only promise that can save you. 

Why does God give us more time? 

What is still going on that absolutely must be done? 

The proclamation of the promise. 

The Gospel. 

The word of the cross. 

Just wrap your head around it— 

The only reason left for history to happen is for you and I to proclaim Christ and him crucified. 

That’s not my opinion, and it’s not some dead theologian’s interpretation. 

This is red-letter, straight from the lips of Jesus: the Gospel of Matthew 28. Christ has not yet come again because in this meantime Christ has given us a commission. 

God has given us time to proclaim, in word and deed, the Gospel of grace. 

The Gospel promise of grace for sinners— not only is this message the main thing, it’s literally the only reason any of us are still here. 

In other words, when we speak about stewardship in church, as we do every November, we’re not simply talking about how much you should give to the church. Fundamentally, we’re talking about how we as the Church spend the time God continues to give us. The hour glass would be empty by now except for the fact that God wants to include more than just you.

The promise for you— it’s also our vocation. 

———————-

Maybe you’ve read it. 

Ernest Hemingway wrote a short story for Esquire magazine in 1936 entitled, “The Horns of the Bull.” Hemingway later changed the title to “The Capital of the World” for his collection The Fifth Column. 

Set during the Spanish Civil War, the story features a young waiter named Paco, a common Spanish name. Paco aspires one day to be a matador like the men he serves at his restaurant. Paco, the reader learns, ran away from home after a bitter falling out with his father. Paco’s father, however, is determined to find his lost but loved child and to bring him back home. After combing the streets and shops of Madrid to no avail, Paco’s father grows desperate. He spares no expense, taking out a full-page advertisement in the newspaper. 

The ad is as plain and clear as a street sign. 

The ad reads simply, “PACO, MEET ME AT THE HOTEL MONTANA.  NOON TUESDAY.  ALL IS FORGIVEN.  PAPA.” 

When Paco’s father arrives at the hotel plaza at noon on Tuesday, he cannot believe his eyes. A squadron of police officers has been dispatched there to control a crowd of nearly a thousand young men, all named Paco, all of them looking to reconcile with their father. 

All of them needed to hear, longed desperately to hear “ALL IS FORGIVEN.” 

Jesus warns us not to get distracted trying to read the signs of the time because we’re supposed to be the sign the Father has posted in the world. 

At great cost. 

And the Father has given us literally all the time in the world to be that sign. 

We are the sign that says: YOUR FATHER IS NOT MAD AT YOU— HE’S BEEN SEARCHING FOR YOU. YOU’RE SAFE TO COME HOME. ALL IS FORGIVEN. 

And any other contradictory messages we put out there in the world, we’re WASTING TIME.

———————-

Of course, you can only give what you have received. 

So I’ll give it to you again here at the end. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, and on his authority alone, I declare to you that ALL IS FORGIVEN. 

But don’t take my word for it. 

Come to the Table. 

Eat this promise. 

So that, nourished in faith, you might be like the beggar who knows how to tell another beggar where to find bread. 

 

“As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs…

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name…

Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days…

And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect…

‘But in those days, after that suffering, 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…

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

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