Damariscotta Baptist Church
Saturday, August 18, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

07/05/15 Sermon - Be On Your Guard

“Be on Your Guard”

Mark 13:9-23

 

“Are you ready?”


That is the question of the day.

“Ready for what?” you may ask.

Ready to stand “Firm to the End”.

We continue this week with the apocalyptic literary style of writing that Mark has placed in his book in chapter 13. Let me remind you that the purpose of apocalyptic literature was not to predict the future, but to “reveal knowledge” to prepare people for the future.

When we go back to the time when Mark wrote this book and familiarize ourselves with the situation at hand, we will be able to make a bit more sense as to what he has written and why.

At the time of Mark’s writing, the Christians in Rome are living under the rule of Nero. Mark is thought to be the first gospel written and when I describe to you the reign of Nero you may begin to understand more of why Mark decided to take the preaching of Peter, and put it into a detailed document that could be shared with many of the Christians in the Roman world.

In 55 AD Nero became emperor of Rome, as the previous emperor, his Great Uncle, Claudius, who had adopted him, died of poisoning, which was attributed to his wife.

Nero becomes emperor at the age of 16 and learned quickly how to manipulate the system to work in his favor.

Here is a description I found of Nero. He was fair-haired, with weak blue eyes, a fat neck, a pot belly and a body which smelt and was covered with spots. He usually appeared in public in a sort of dressing gown without a belt, a scarf around his neck and no shoes.


In character he was a strange mix of paradoxes; artistic, sporting, brutal, weak, sensual, erratic, extravagant, sadistic, bisexual - and later in life almost certainly deranged.

In July 64 AD, the city of Rome was engulfed in an immense fire. The Great Fire ravaged Rome for six days. The historian Tacitus, who was about 9 years old at the time, reports that of the fourteen districts of the city,

Quote, 'four were undamaged, three were utterly destroyed and in the other seven there remained only a few mangled and half-burnt traces of houses.’ Unquote

Nero, always a man desperate to be popular, therefore looked for scapegoats on whom the fire could be blamed. He found it in an obscure new religious sect, the Christians. And so many Christians were arrested and thrown to the wild beasts in the circus, or they were crucified   

It is rumored that many Christians were dipped in oil and burned to death at night, serving as 'lighting' in Nero's gardens, while Nero mingled among the watching crowds. It is this brutal persecution which immortalized Nero as the first Antichrist in the eyes of the Christian church.

(The second Antichrist being the reformist Luther by edict of the Catholic Church.)

Thus the beginning of persecution for Christians.  

In 68 AD Nero commits suicide to avoid assassination and by 70 AD Rome had gone through four emperors in a year, Vespasian becomes emperor and his son Titus, who has been a military commander in Judea, was left in charge of ending the Jewish rebellion. Titus does so, by destroying the city and the Temple. The Arch of Titus, which commemorates his victory, can be seen in Rome today.

 

Within a generation of Jesus’ prediction, not a stone was left upon another of the Temple in Jerusalem.

 

Do you get the picture?

 

Mark and Peter, disciples who spent three years walking and talking with Jesus, who lived through his death, resurrection and ascension are sharing the gospel in a hostile environment. Today we have a similar imagine of what it was like when we look at the Christians who live in Iraq. A place like Rome that desperately needs hope and yet, even the mention of Jesus’ name brings persecution and death.

Peter had become the “Rock” of the fledgling faith and had been spending his time preaching and sharing the truth of the gospel, regardless the consequences.

Mark had the gift of writing and decided to record Peter’s messages in the format of what we now have as the book of Mark.

The purpose of this particular chapter was to encourage the believers to not give up hope, but to be firm to the end. To remember that Jesus knew this was going to occur, and he wanted believers to know that regardless of what governments or others do them, they were to stand firm.

You see, the battle was not just a physical battle here on Earth, it was also a cosmic battle between good and evil. Jesus wanted believers to remember, the war had already been won. Mark hoped by relaying what would occur, then Christians could be on their guard. It was because they associated themselves with Christ, they were destined to be persecuted. And when that persecution happened, they were to rely on the Holy Spirit to be their guide and He would give them the words to say.

Mark also wanted to make it clear, that the daily relationships that seemed close and intimate in people’s lives may not stay that way when persecution came their way.

The test would be whether Christians followed Christ or followed their family. Brother would betray brother, father would betray his child, children would rebel against their parents and even have them put to death. Again, Mark was writing this to prepare the new believers for the most difficult of times, and to encourage them to be on their guard.

I don’t think we are very different from those Christians in the first century. We live in a culture that, like Rome, does not accept many of the Christian values we ascribe to. Even in America, which was founded 239 years ago, the freedom of religion is becoming challenged. And look at what is happening to Christians around the world. Martyrdom still exists.

How are we to remain firm and be on guard today?

My suggestion for us today is that we de-compartmentalize our Christian faith. When I read through Mark’s warnings, the theme that steps out to me, is that our faith in Christ, our relationship with Christ, is meant to be central to EVERYTHING that happens to us. Many Christians live a life that has a compartment for all of the various things we do.

You know what I mean.

You have your home life, your extended family life, your closer family life, your work life, your life with your best friends, your life with overall friends and then you have your spiritual life.

Let’s be honest, how many times do these different compartments actually meet.

Whether that is because it isn’t possible, or because we like it that way, that is just the way it seems.

Mark is telling us here, that as Christians, we are to place Christ in the midst of each of those compartments.

Not only are we to place Jesus in the midst, we are to make sure our relationship with Him is supreme in all of those different compartments.

When it comes to the relationships we have with our spouse, our parents, our children, the relationship that should be first is the one we have with Jesus.

With all of the compartments we find our lives existing, we are to put Jesus first.

Some of you  may be thinking, “Yes, Marilee, but how?”

We begin de-compartmentalizing our lives by increasing the amount of time, each day, we spend reading and thinking about God’s Word.

When the Bible goes from On the page, Into our minds and hearts, And then into our lives, On a daily basis, Our lives become more centered on God.

Think about how much time you spend daily in God’s Word now, and add a bit more. Read a Psalm, a Proverb, or a section of one of the Gospels, then think about it throughout the day. Talk with someone else about what you are thinking. Take one of the “Our Daily Breads” or go on line and sign up for a daily devotional, read it, then ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you and to help you actively place it in your life

To actively place it into all the compartments of your life.

The encouraging reminder we find is that even when we are in the midst of a battle, we have an advocate, the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and will even give us the right words to say, if we let Him. Basically, we are never in this world alone, even though there will be times when it certainly feels like it.

This weekend we celebrate the freedom of our country. Today I would like us to celebrate our freedom from anxiety and worry. That as Christians, we are assured that regardless of what happens to our relationships on earth, to our country, to the world, we are to be on our guard, yet remain firm in the knowledge that the ultimate victory has been won. Eternity is assured for those who put their faith in the Savior.

And we celebrate this victory together, by observing the Lord’s Supper.