Damariscotta Baptist Church
Monday, September 24, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

06/28/15 Sermon - Birth Pangs

“Birth Pangs”

Mark 13:1-8

This morning we had the opportunity to celebrate the birth of a child. I am sure I can state emphatically that most everyone, if not everyone, is enthralled with Anastasia and the hope she brings that the church will keep going. There is something about a baby or child that reminds us of the potential of good to come.

However, the process women are destined to go through to deliver such a child, is sheer agony.

How many women here either attempted or managed to succeed in giving birth naturally to one of their children?

Then you can directly relate to the term “Birth Pangs”.

Each woman has her own story. Some women have bodies that prepare for the delivery of a child, with very little warning and with a few strong pushes, the baby appears. Then there are others of us, who are given hours of heavy contractions, and felt every inch of the child leaving the birth canal.

One interesting thing about birth pangs, is even though they are supposed to be the signal that the baby is about to come,

You know the scene, the wife looks at her husband, directly after wincing and groaning, and says, “It’s time.” And the husband responds with fear and trembling, “It’s time?” And the two of them know they are in for an experience they will never forget.

Yes, even though birthing pains are the indication the time is soon, there is still no one who can state emphatically when the baby will arrive. Only God knows the time.

Today’s Scripture from Mark describes a similar scenario. 

Just a bit of review, Jesus and his disciples have spent an entire day, in the Temple, in Jerusalem, intellectually battling with the religious leaders over such things as loving your neighbor and taking care of widows and orphans, and as they walk out of the Temple to go home, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings?”

Jesus responds with a prediction that not one of the stones will be left upon the other. The destruction of the Temple was inevitable.

They go to the Mount of Olives and sit down and the disciples have put two and two together and decide to quiz Jesus a bit, for more details.

They ask when will the Temple be destroyed and what signs will appear to let them know they are about to begin. Now remember, these men are under the impression that Jesus has entered Jerusalem and somehow, he and his crew of twelve are going to overthrow the Roman government and now Jesus has thrown in the destruction of a century old edifice needing to be destroyed, whose foundation consists of stones that up to 40 feet long!

Jesus’ response comes in the form of what is known as an apocalyptic text. Many scholars call this section in Mark, the “little apocalypse” with the “big apocalypse” being the Book of Revelation, which was written by the apostle John, on the Aegean Island of Patmos.

Now before you start thinking about Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins series “Left Behind” or Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth”, I would like to give you some background on what the apocalypse really is.

Today’s Christian culture has been influenced by the writings of the previously stated authors, along with other early American theologians, who believe in a system that is known as “dispensationalism”. It is interesting to note, that this form of belief system did not exist until the early 1800’s which was expounded in the writings of John Nelson Darby during the Plymouth Brethren movement. The Scofield Reference Bible was then written and centered on this theology which believes there are distinctive end times that have been determined by interpreting the Book of Revelation, not as an account of past events, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, but as predictions of the future. Thus, we have some intriguing and imaginative fictional novels that have come from this theology.

Mark is clearly writing this portion of his book using apocalyptic literature. However, I think it is important to understand exactly what apocalyptic literature is.

The word apocalypse, in ancient Greek, which Mark is writing in, means “uncovering” and translated literally from the Greek means,
“a disclosure of knowledge”, for example, “a lifting of the veil” or revelation.

In religious contexts it is usually “a disclosure of something”, thus we have the title of the last book of our Bible, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” or we could say, “The Disclosure of knowledge of Jesus Christ”.

The disciples have asked Jesus to reveal to them, when the destruction will occur and how will they know it will be happening. Mark then utilizes the type of literature of his day, to reveal Jesus’ answer.

We must also take into account to whom Mark is writing this book. This portion of Mark was not written for us to ferret out signs of end times. Mark was writing his book during the beginning of the first century. He was attempting to offer comfort to those believers who were struggling to make sense of what was happening to them.

Persecution was rampant, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem had been fulfilled, life as they knew it was turned upside-down. Not only that, they were being harassed by people claiming to be Jesus or some sort of messianic figure who had returned, which made them feel they were in the midst of “wars or rumors of wars”. Through Mark’s writing these people were offered words of encouragement that Jesus had predicted the very events that were happening in their lives.

As we read this, I dare say, we too, can relate to the challenges these early Christians may have experienced.  Have we not seen nations rising against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms? Not to mention earthquakes in various places and famines.

Which brings me back to Jesus’ words, “These are the beginning of birth pains.”

We will continue reading what Jesus has to say in this apocalyptic narrative, in the weeks to come, but for today, What message is Jesus trying to get across to these first century disciples, who are concerned with how on earth Jesus thinks he and his group of twelve are going to destroy the massive Jewish Temple?

And what about us Christians in the 20th Century? What is our “Jewish Temple” today? What massive, overwhelming problem or circumstance lurks in our life, causing us anxiety or fear?

I don’t think we are any different from the disciples.

Let’s face it, we want to know when, we want to have answers now, today.

We are constantly asking God to reveal what He is doing and when He is going to answer our prayers, not to mention, finding out when Jesus will return.

And what is Jesus’ answer to all of these questions?

When I read this, I believe Jesus is revealing that he is completely aware of the circumstances we are going through and will be going through, and because he knows, we should relax and, “Not Fear!”

Jesus wants the disciples to know that even though the Jewish Temple will be destroyed, “Do not fear!”

Even though al qaeda destroys another village, Jesus reminds us, “Do not fear!”

In 1 John 4:18 we read, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”

God’s perfect love for us tells us not to live in anxiety. We are not to be making sure we do everything religiously correct in fear that we are going to fail some divine behavior test. God has called us to live in joy and confidence. It is with this joy in the knowledge that God has provided grace, mercy and goodness that we are able to dedicate our children to him. Because we know God’s love has been demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we have hope, not fear.

Didn’t Jesus just reveal last week that the religious leaders have messed everything up. They had turned their focus from God, to themselves and created a mockery of the faith God designed. It was the very Temple itself that had been turned into a den of thieves and was literally robbing the widows of their homes and existence. Jesus was trying to let the disciples know that things are not always what they appear to be.

By revealing what would come, and yet not revealing the exact time and place, Jesus was inviting his disciples to be ready at all times. That message remains the same today. It may not be the one you want to hear, but it is the one that fits. I get as frustrated with the answer, “In God’s time.” As the next person. I would like to know when, but that is not my calling. It is not your calling either.

We are called to live NOW. To be ready.

Think about it. If we were to live in the NOW, we would be allowing God’s promises about the future to be a part of our present day life.

Remember what Jesus said at the beginning of Mark, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near, Repent and believe the good news.” Glimpses of heaven are with us every day, if we are living in a way that demonstrates we are in the here and now.

For example, I was having lunch with some friends of mine who know that I am a Christian, but we are not necessarily similar in our beliefs. And they felt compelled to share with me their thoughts on the forgiveness of the families who’s loved ones were killed in the Bible study in Charlotte, South Carolina. Both of the women expressed their utter disbelief and admiration for the family members, and they wanted to know how I thought the family members were able to forgive, so sincerely and so soon.  My response was there are times when heaven appears to us on earth and that should encourage us all to do what God would do.

Jesus told us in the previous chapter that there were two commandments we were to follow, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” When we do the second commandment we are revealing heaven on earth.

What about you? Have you experienced any activity of God this past week? Perhaps an act of kindness, an opportunity someone took to help someone out, maybe someone has taken the time to listen to your hurts and pains?

God shows up in all kinds of places, working with us, for us, through us and in spite of us.

When we act like Jesus did, or see others acting like Jesus did, We see the apocalypse, the revelation, in glimpses, yes…

and in God’s time….

And for eternity.

Let’s pray.