“The Beginnings of Sorrows”
“And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.” (Mark 13:1-8)
Our daily newspapers are filled with stories of misery, woe and sorrow. Sicknesses, diseases, wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and the like ravage the earth. Add to these things the robberies, rapes and murders that are reported every day, and you cannot help asking yourself this question: — If God almighty is truly good and he absolutely rules the universe in total sovereignty, if God really is in absolute, total control of everything, how can these things be?
Would a good God allow such things as this? If God is in total control of all things, how can we explain fathers raping their own daughters, mothers murdering their own children, sons slaughtering their parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, and schoolboys murdering their classmates?
There is absolutely no question that God is good, perfectly good, and that he is in absolute, total control of all things at all times. — “Our God is in the heavens. He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased!” Not only does he allow these things, he brings them to pass. These things are not accidents. They are the work of God’s hands. He says, “I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things!”
This world of sorrow and woe is a world full of sin; and a holy, good God must and shall punish sin. The sorrows of this world are God’s judgments upon this world. Yet, all the misery, woe, trouble and sorrow we see here are just “the beginnings of sorrows.” The troubles, woes and sorrows of life in this world, no matter how severe, no matter how relentless they may be, are but “the beginnings of sorrows”.
These things are just the forerunners of that great and terrible day when God shall judge all men in strict justice. They are just the forerunners of wrath to warn us of the infinite, indescribable, eternal wrath that shall be relentlessly poured out upon your soul in hell, upon all who perish under the wrath of God.
If you are not in too big a hurry to go to hell, pay attention to what you have just read. Paul said, “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” If you are yet without Christ, I pray that God the Holy Spirit will be pleased to persuade you by his Word and by his omnipotent mercy to flee to Christ, to be reconciled to God. The wrath of God is upon you. The Lord Jesus Christ is your only hope.
Unless God saves you by his almighty, free grace in Christ, you will soon be in hell. O sinner, trust Christ now. Come, plunge into that fountain drawn from Immanuel’s veins. Wash your soul in the blood of Christ. Lay hold upon eternal life. Cast yourself down at the throne of grace and sue for mercy. Trust Christ, and live forever! It is written, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Will you now trust the Son of God? May God give you faith in his dear Son. Oh, I pray that he will make you willing in the day of his power! Mark 13 is all about the judgment of God upon men and women who despise his grace.
The Destruction of the Temple
“And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?” (vv. 1-4)
This 13th chapter of Mark is full of judgment. It speaks of the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, the destruction of the Jewish church state and of the civil government of the Jewish nation, which was consummated in 70 AD, just forty years after our Lord was crucified. This is exactly according to the prophecy given in Genesis 49:10.
When our Savior “went out of the temple,” he went out never to return to it. What solemn thoughts that should awaken in our minds. Robert Hawker wrote…
“When the Lord departs, woe to that land, woe to that house or family, where the Lord’s gracious presence is not. No sooner had Lot departed from Sodom than the next account is the destruction of it (Genesis 19:22-24). And who shall say how much the Christless owe in being saved from instant ruin, both in nations, and cities, and families, from the seed of Christ living in the midst of them.”
It seems obvious to me that this passage also speaks of the glorious second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he shall come in flaming fire taking vengeance on his adversaries.
While no man knows the day or hour of Christ’s second advent, or even the approximate time when the end will come, we are assured throughout the Scriptures that Christ shall come again. Trusting his Word, his providence and his grace, it is enough for us to live in anticipation of that great day, waiting for the promise of his coming. It is far better for us not to know the time when he shall appear. If we knew when he would appear, we would be irresponsible and neglect our daily responsibilities in this world, just as people have always done when they thought they knew when he was coming. It is best for us to live in the anticipation of faith, waiting for the Lord from heaven, believing that he will do as he said.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).
Yet, it is a serious mistake to read such passages as the one now before us as merely referring to prophetic things, as though they had no immediate message for us. You will notice that our Lord hardly even answered the disciples’ question about when these things would be and what would be the sign of their fulfillment. Reading the entire chapter, you cannot miss the fact that our Lord deliberately seized this opportunity, not to answer those questions about prophetic things, but to warn and teach them and us about present dangers and responsibilities. We see this clearly in the opening verses of the chapter.
When they walked out of the temple, the disciples’ looked over that splendid piece of architecture, the center and glory of the Jews’ religion, with great pride, and said, “Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
What does the Holy Spirit intend for us to learn from this statement and our Lord’s reply to it? Obviously, he intends for us to learn more than the mere fact that our Lord here declared he would come in judgment against the Jews and destroy their temple.
The very first thing that seems obvious to me is this: — Every mere form of godliness, religion, worship and ceremony, without the power of godliness, is an abomination to God.
The Jews’ religion was rich in tradition, rich in outward appearance, rich in respectability and rich in history. But they had forsaken the Word of God and the worship of God. They had a form of religion that impressed everyone but God. They had a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof. They had a name that they lived, but they were dead. Our Master said to them, — “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
The power of godliness is the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16). Every form of religion that denies the gospel of Christ is an abomination to God. We are strictly commanded, as we care for our souls and care for the glory of God, to turn away from it (Revelation 18:4).
Next, we will do well to remember that we are all too much inclined to judge things by the outward appearance. We are too much like little children, who are much more excited about a field of dandelions than a field of corn. We are too much impressed with stately, ornate buildings, stained glass, marble floors and religious images and icons. Those things that appeal to our senses more easily attract us than that which meets the needs of our hearts and souls.
That which is essential to the worship of God is not physical, but spiritual. The gospel of God’s grace, the revelation of his glory, the presence of his Spirit, and the knowledge of his Son are the things that are of singular importance! If we have these things, all is well. If we are lacking these things, our religion is vanity, and worse than vanity. Without these things, our religion is useless and damning, and God will soon destroy it.
Let us learn from our Lord’s words here that the true glory of a church is not buildings, creeds, rituals and history, but the knowledge of and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, we must not run to the absurd extreme of being indifferent about that building which is set aside for the worship of God.
“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). It is no shame for a congregation to meet in a barn or under a tree, if they can do no better. But it is abhorrent for people who live in beautiful, richly furnished homes to be content for the house of God to be a run down shack. The buildings in which God’s people meet to worship him are erected for and dedicated to the worship of our God. We ought to care for them and treat them as the house of God. We certainly ought to take as much interest in the appearance of God’s house as we would of our own houses.
The Deception of the World
“And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (vv. 5-6).
This solemn warning is repeated frequently throughout the New Testament There have been many throughout history who have come claiming to be the Christ, the Messiah. Every time such a blasphemer arises a few fools follow them. But never do they deceive many. Our Lord is here warning us of something more subtle than a man openly claiming that he is the Christ. His warning is against those by whom the nations of the world are deceived. He is talking about that strong delusion, which God himself sends upon those who will not receive the love of the truth.
“And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12)
There are many false prophets who preach a false Christ, by whom men and women are deceived, deluded, and damned: the false Christs of liberals, cults and papists, and the false Christ of Arminian, freewill, works religion. There are many false Christs, many antichrists, by whom the souls of men are deceived and damned. I want to be as charitable, kind and gracious as I can; but charity, kindness and grace will not allow me to be silent while immortal souls are deceived and God’s glory is trampled beneath the feet of men. If you trust a false Christ, you cannot be saved any more than you could be saved by trusting a tadpole. We are called of God to trust, love, follow and obey the true Christ and him only. Salvation is promised to none but those who trust the true Christ. Therefore, we are warned, “Take heed that no man deceive you.” We must take heed to the teachings of Holy Scripture, lest we be deceived by some false Christ.
The Christ of Scripture is himself almighty God incarnate in human flesh, who alone is the Savior of the world. He is the Surety of an elect, covenant people (Hebrews 7:22). He is the Substitute who has satisfied divine justice for and effectually redeemed his people by the sacrifice of himself (Isaiah 53:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:12). He is the Savior who saves his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He is the Sovereign who sits upon the throne of universal dominion (John 17:2).
What should our attitude be toward those who preach Christ in all the fulness of his grace and glory as our all-sufficient Savior? Isaiah declares, — “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7).
What should our attitude be toward those false prophets who preach a false Christ and deceive the souls of men? The Scriptures are equally clear in answering that question. — “As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9). — “I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Galatians 5:12). — “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 1:10-11).
The Displays 0f God’s Judgment.
“And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows” (vv. 7-8).
Now, I pointedly address any who read these lines who are yet without Christ. How often God has spoken to you by the displays of his judgments upon others and by the displays of his wrath and judgment against you! Time and again he has made you see clear, manifest, undeniable tokens of his wrath in this world. Time and again he has brushed your soul with the fires of hell. What misery, what trouble, what woe, what ruin your sin has brought upon you!
Yet, you turn a deaf ear to the voice of God’s providence! You try, with all your power, to silence the torments of your guilty conscience. You try your best not to hear the Word of God. Oh, how I pray that God will not allow you to have your way!
I warn you again, the troubles you see and the troubles you experience in this world are just “the beginnings of sorrows!” There is a day coming when the holy Lord God will judge all men by that Man whom he has appointed. When that day comes, if you are found out of Christ, if you are found among those whose names are not written in the book of life, you shall perish forever in hell! No mind can imagine, no tongue can describe the horror of sorrow which shall torment your soul forever in hell!
“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).
I set before you life and death, eternal life and eternal death. Why will you die? Why will you choose death, when life can be had so freely? Christ is willing to save all who trust him. He is able to save all who trust him. Christ will save all who trust him. Indeed, he has saved all who trust him. Come, O Spirit of God. Breathe upon the poor, helpless, slain sinner, for Christ’s sake. Cause the dead to hear the voice of the Son of God and live.
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