I don’t really like having my window blinds open at night. This is something my wife and I agree on for two different reasons. Her reason is very reasonable: when you’re inside and the lights are on inside, it’s hard to see people outside, but it’s easy for them to see inside. That’s a logical reason, that makes sense from a safety point of view. My reason comes more from a traumatic moment in my life.
I am one of those people that have never really liked scary stories, or being scared in general. In one of my houses, my sister swore that she saw a ghost, and I still don’t know if she was being serious, or just trying to scare me. Unlike me though, my family didn’t mind a good scaring. It was when I moved to another house that my trauma occurred. We moved to an old transfer town, Ione, when I was in 5th grade. The town was founded back when the gold rush days of the 1840. There was an old hotel that supposedly had a ghost haunting it, and a decrepit castle that overlooked the town. Halloween was also a very big event, with multiple haunted houses, and events going on. None of which I really cared for.
The trauma happened one October night while I was sitting in my living room. I was alone watching some show on TV, what it was, I don’t remember. It was getting late, and I had the blinds of our bay windows opened. Mostly because I didn’t think to shut them. Secure in the recliner, I heard my mom rustling in the kitchen. That’s when I heard the rustling from outside, I turned to look and there right at my head level was a werewolf! My screams echoed through the house as I ran to my room.
I heard the door open and close, with the sound of my dad’s laughter from the front of the house. At 10 years old I shouldn’t have been as frighten as I was, but I was. My dad’s simple prank, has seared into my mind to always close the blinds of my house when the sun goes down. Since then I am usually on my guard to close the windows, even justifying in my mind almost every time I do it.
And it’s a call to be on our guard that Jesus calls us to, as we return to the Gospel of Mark this week. Where we pick up in Mark chapter 13 starting in verse 1.
As we return to the book of Mark, let’s look back to see where we find ourselves. In the last two weeks, we have been in a hostile situation. Jesus had flipped over tables and ran money changers and merchants out of the Temple in Jerusalem. As a result the religious leaders challenged Jesus’ authority to do this. Jesus met their challenge with a challenge of his own. This led to Jesus revealing the heart condition of the religious leaders. They were killing the work of God in their own lives, all the while putting on a show for the people around them.
From there, we saw last week that Jesus was questioned three times about topics that dealt with finances, relationships, and the Scriptures. Each question a “what if” that came from a place of trying to push God’s commands to their limits. Jesus responded with his own question, to which no one gave an answer. It was here that we learned that Jesus wanted us to trust him, getting rid of the “what ifs” that keep us from trusting God.
It is after these hostile encounters that we come to Jesus and his disciples exiting the Temple area. Let’s pick this up in verse 1 of chapter 13.
1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” “4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
As Jesus and the disciples exit the temple, the disciple’s focus was on the grandness of the buildings that the Jewish people had erected. This outward focus of the religious leaders, and what Jesus had just finished telling the people fell on the deaf ears of his own disciples. Jesus had just told the people in verse 38, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Just as the religious leaders took pride in what people could see on the outside, the disciples were in the same mindset that the grandness of the building was greater than the problems inside it.
To Jesus the outside grandness was fleeting. It wouldn’t last long, because it had been corrupted on the inside, and God wouldn’t allow it to stand for long in this way.
This must have unsettled or peeked the interest of some of the disciples, because soon after they asked him,
This is when Jesus speaks. Now, as I read Jesus’ words, I want you to listen for one idea that Jesus keeps bringing up. Because this one idea gives us the reason for why Jesus is giving this insight to his disciples.
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.
20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
24 “But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
There is so much that we could talk about in Jesus’ words here, but when we started this journey through Mark, we said we were going to focus on the big movements of the Holy Spirit and how the sections of the book flooded into one another. So, my question is, what was the point of this section? What is the main idea that Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples?
Was it that bad things were coming? Was it to give a complete description of events? Or was it something else? What was the idea that Jesus said again and again throughout this talk?
The answer is, be on your guard. Jesus gives us information about wars, and rumors of wars. He tells us that there will be famines and earthquakes. Jesus tells us that his disciples will be arrested, questioned, and beaten. He tells us how hard it’s going to be, with descriptions of nursing mothers and winter climates. Jesus tells us about fake christs, prophets, and miracles. He tells us about celestial events, about the sun and moon going dark, and stars falling from the sky. And Jesus tells of his return, mirroring the prophet Daniel’s vision.
And through all of it and as Jesus closes the revealing of all of this, his emphasis is on one idea: be on your guard.
Ten times Jesus makes reference to be on your guard. Using terms and phrases like, “Do not believe it”, “You know that it is near”, “Be alert”, “Watch!”
Two times he gives examples of what being on guard, or watching looks like, with the tree’s leaves and the master of the house returning.
Why does Jesus say these things? Why does Jesus answer his disciples request of knowing the destruction of the Temple, by emphasizing how they need to be alert? How they need to be on watch, and be on their guard?
Isn’t because we can easily become complacent in our relationship with God. Making too big of a deal about our surroundings, but not on the work of God?
These disciples were not focused on the work of God, but on the work of man. They are consumed with the creation, but not the Creator. They are living for building greater physical things, not on sprite things like building the kingdom.
These disciples had the same mindset as the religious leaders, the outward grandness is all that mattered. But to Jesus, all of the outside looks are going to fall, and the question is, are we ready for the world to come crashing down around us, or are we going to crash with it?
We can fall so easily into this mindset in own lives, even in the little things. When children act out, it embarrasses the parents. So we fly into a rage, but in doing so, we mar their understanding of Christ. Discipline is encouraged in Scripture, but provocation isn’t. When the political climate shifts into venomous attacks, and we allow venom to pass our lips, we then mar the witness of Christ we have to others. When we become prideful in what we have built, boosting about all that we have accomplished, rather than giving the praise back to God who has given us everything, we hamper people giving glory back to God as he deserves.
Children grow and move away, politics sways back and forth, what we build gets sold. Are we using our time with these things to promote the kingdom, being on guard for the work of God through them, or are we focusing on things that are of temporary importance?
This coming winter season, the leadership of this church is going to present projects for our congregation to help with renovations that are needed for our building. There’s a lot that needs to be done, so that the ministry God has given us here for the last 40 plus years, can continue to grow.
But this building will fall. These walls will crumble. This floor will be uprooted. None of these will be left on itself. The only reason we keep this building around, is because God has allowed us to use it as a jumping off point for his work.
But this building is meaningless, if our focus is the same as the disciples. If we look at the building and say, look at the grandness that we have built, we have missed the calling of God in our lives, which is “Be on your guard.”
Changed lives, saved souls, God’s glory, this is the work that we are called to do. This is the work that we come together to accomplish. This is the work that goes beyond these walls. We are to guard against an attitude of creation focus. We are to guard against a lifestyle of complacency. We are to guard against losing sight of what really matters, and that’s the vision that Jesus has called us to. His kingdom above all else.
Bad things will come. Wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution, false christs, the question isn’t will these come, the questions is will we be on our guard, or not?
It is so easy for us to fall into the mindset of the disciples who focused on the grandness of the temple buildings, but God calls us to the mindset of being on our guard for his work. God calls us to use what we have for his kingdom purposes. Our time, our work, our relationships, our finances, our mental faculties, our will.
This week my challenge to you is this, wrestle with this simple question, “Are you on guard for the work of God, or are you focused on things that will fall?”
Go through your daily routine: your actions and attitudes.
Then make a list of the things you do, words you say, and attitudes you have.
Which ones show that you are on your guard, and which ones show that you are not?
Finally seek God in prayer so that you are more on guard for his work.
When I was a 10 year old boy sitting in my nice comfy cozy recliner, I was not prepared for the fright I received. Since then, I have been on my guard, making sure that never happens again. Are we closing the blinds to the things that don’t matter, so that we may be on guard for the only thing that does matter, the work of God?
Now let us be on guard for the work of God that is happening all around us, and may we trust in his Spirit to accomplish that work. Amen.