Jesus’ Kingdom – The Joyful Pains of Birth
(Mark 13,1-11; 24-27)
Good evening. Last Sunday Dietrich talked about 2 of the 3 fundamental questions of mankind. Where do we come from? And Why are we here? Questions all of us need to answer in some way or another to navigate through live.
And although we didn’t plan on this, as I prepared for tonight, I noticed we will move into the third, the last remaining question today. The question of: Where are we going? Where are our lives headed? What will our future look like?
Questions that I hear people asking more and more these days. At the Fridays for Future demonstrations we just saw around 20.000 students in Berlin alone asking, where the climate change will lead us. With the technological advancements made almost every other week businesses are struggling to know how to move forward. And even personally, we worry about how our career will go and if we will still have a pension to fall back on at the end. If we made the right investments. How our relationship with our partner will turn out.
And in all of this, what wouldn’t we give for a peek into the future. We read books on social and economic trends to be prepared. Do personality test to find the right job or partner. I talked to a guy the other day who said he went to a witch to tell him what his future would look like. All for just a small peek behind the curtain to make sure we are on the right track. To make sure things will work out for us. Or at least to be prepared for what is coming.
And when we move into the next chapter of Mark, we meet Jesus’ disciples that have the same question regarding Jesus and the kingdom he is proclaiming. Because they have heard a lot about this kingdom already. What greatness looks like, what the first commandment in it is, how they can truly worship. But they also realize, that the world around them looks completely different. That the full amount of this kingdom is apparently still to come. And that’s why they come to Jesus and we read in verses 3-4:
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?”
They want to know: When will this kingdom come? What are signs where we can see, that this kingdom that we have heard so much about, will finally be built for everyone to see? They want a peek behind the curtain. Want Jesus to tell them, how they can be sure, that what he promised will happen.
And Jesus uses his last big speech before his arrest to give them and us an answer. Give us a peek at the action plan for his kingdom. And for that he uses the image of a birth. Jesus says the kingdom is like a child being born. And like every birth there are:
- The Pains of Birth
- The Joy of Birth
- Finding Joy in the Pain
But before we start, I would like to pray with us. This is regarded as one of the most difficult text in the New Testament. So I hope that you still have some brain energy left from your week for tonight. But this also means, that my words won’t be enough. We need God to explain his words to us. And I want to ask him to use what I will be saying to do just that. If it is possible, I would ask you to stand with me.
— Prayer —
1. The Pains of Birth
Jesus describes these signs that the disciples asked him for as the following:
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.
I can only imagine how the disciples must have felt back then. I would not be surprised if their jaws just dropped. Because this was definitely not the answer the disciples were hoping for. They had probably thought of signs like military victories over the romans or the downfall of their religious opponents. Signs that we would expect from a king coming to power. Gradually gaining ground, until he finally established his kingdom.
But just like with their question for the first place in Jesus’ kingdom that we looked at the other week: Jesus flips their and our whole understanding of his kingdom coming upside down. Jesus says: You will know that my kingdom is about to come, not through military or religious advancements, but when you experience difficult times. Just like a baby produces birth pains, before it is coming, the times before my kingdom will be painful as well. Times where people will claim they alone know the right way to life and heaven and will try to drag you away from God. A time full of conflict between people and war between nations. Of people suffering under natural catastrophes, illnesses and even persecution for what they believe in. Jesus says when you see these things happen, it means that my kingdom is close.
And on the one hand there is no denying that Jesus knew what he was talking about. Because every single one of his predictions has come true. In the past more than 200 people have spoken up and claimed to be the returned Messiah or at least knowing, when the world would end. Most recently we had people believing it would end 2012 with the end of the Mayan calendar. And all of these more than 200 predictions share one common denominator: they all turned out to be wrong. Leaving people who sold their houses, quit their jobs or gave their money away terribly disappointed.
We have witnessed terrible wars especially in Germany. Devastating hurricanes and earthquakes all over this planet. And just last week CNN and others reported on at least 86 Christians being killed in Nigeria. Entire communities wiped out. Just because they believed in Jesus.
All the predictions Jesus made in these verses have become true in our history. Over and over again.
But I don’t know about you, I notice that although Jesus was right with his predictions. Although he proved, that he really knows about what is going to happen. And although that should make me trust, that he is right about his kingdom coming, too. I notice that these signs often drag me to believe the opposite. Because when difficult times come in my life it often makes me doubt God’s plan rather than trust him. Makes me question whether he is still in control and cares about me.
About 4 years ago. A friend in my church got diagnosed with cancer. He was about to get married and we just couldn’t believe that God would let him die like that. So we prayed and he miraculously recovered. We were celebrating. Told everyone how God healed him, only to find out a year later, that the cancer had come back, now even worse and without a big chance of survival. And when I heard the news, I just thought, and maybe you know these thoughts: God, why? Why does it have to be this way? How can this be part of your perfect plan? I couldn’t understand why God would let this happen. Had a hard time seeing how this could be a sign that his kingdom is coming.
Maybe you have had similar experiences. Maybe because of a broken relationship. A job that you lost or a person close to you suffering under an illness.
And for many people I talk to, this is exactly the reason why they don’t believe in God at all. They see how many conflicts there are in the world, how many people suffer and how badly even church leaders have treated people in the past. And all it does for them is to prove that the loving, just, caring; this perfect God that the Bible talks about can’t be real. That if he wants our best and if his kingdom is really coming, then it should get better rather than worse. Marx’s once said: Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. For many the promise Jesus makes of his kingdom coming just seems like a dream that we want to believe in to escape the problems of this world. All while closing our eyes to the facts around us that point to the opposite being true.
But here Jesus wants to help us to interpret the signs in the right way. In verse 7 he says: “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Jesus says: these difficult times must come, because we are still living in an imperfect world. A world with a broken relationship to God. Something that we chose to have, when we turned our backs on God and thought we could run our lives better without him. And all the pains that we are experiencing now are a result of this decision. This does not reflect God’s will for our lives. But these things must happen because they are the direct consequence of our wish to live apart from God.
And although these painful moments must happen, Jesus wants us to know, that this is not the end. That although it will sometimes feel different to us, he is still in control and his perfect plan is still going to be fulfilled. Jesus calls this painful time in verse 8 just the beginning of birth pains. Pains that, although they are extremely painful. Although we would love to avoid them. They are pains that will lead to a good end. That just like a mother after labor holding her new born in her arms, these difficult times will bring unbelievable joy to the ones who endured it.
2. The Joy of Birth
Read with me verses 24-27:
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.
When things have gone downhill. When even the natural elements fall into chaos. That’s when Jesus says he will return. Right at the point, where we would be completely lost, that is where he comes, as he says, in clouds with great power and glory.
The clouds in this sentence are an image taken from the Old Testament that indicated God’s presence. After Israel had been liberated from Egypt, they wandered 40 years in the desert, with God leading them. In a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.
So what Jesus is saying here is: I, God himself in all his power and glory, will come to earth. And at this point he will gather all his people from every corner of the earth to save them from the destruction and the pain going on around them. And in Revelations, the last book of the New Testament, we read how exactly he will do that: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
After all these signs, God will put an end to the pain we are experiencing on this earth. He will heal every wound that other people might have caused us. He will wipe away every tear of families being torn apart. Of relationships being broken. He will fix what is wrong with the world and us. Make the world into a new place where the pains of birth are no longer present. Back into a perfect kingdom with a perfect king and his saved people. This is the joy, that Jesus promises his people at the end of the birth pains.
And here you might think, but why is God not coming back now and saving us all this pain? If his plan is so wonderful for us, why wait until it’s almost over? Why would he want us to suffer more than we need to?
And Jesus says: Because right now the kingdom is still growing. Like a baby in a mother’s womb, it is not ready to come into the world yet. Not because God couldn’t make it happen, but because he wants more people to be in it when it finally comes. In verse 10 we read:
10 The gospel must first be preached to all nations.
In God’s eyes, the time that we live in now, however difficult it is, serves a greater purpose. Because the difficult truth is that the joy of this beautiful kingdom coming, won’t be for everybody. And I know this is not a very popular point to make in our time. But the Bible says, that only God’s people, the ones who believe in him during these painful times on earth. Only they will receive this joy in the end. They will be saved from the destruction around them. But this means on the other hand, that the ones who don’t trust God. Who don’t belong to his followers, won’t be saved.
And I know that this seems cruel to many people today. God saving some, while others perish. But it’s exactly in this verse 10 that we can see how much God wants to prevent this from happening. How he is willing to even let his people suffer a little longer. Drag out his coming and the fulfillment of his wonderful wish for his followers. Just to extend this saving gospel to even more people.
His wish is not for you and me to be punished, but to be saved. He sent his son, gave us these signs and told us about what is to come not to scare us, but to show us how much he would love to share this joy with you and me. This is why the birth pains are still going on. Because they give more and more people the chance to hear the gospel. Find the answer to the question of: Where are we going? Find this unbelievable joy even if that means to endure this painful time.
3. Finding Joy in the Pain
Something that Jesus was the perfect example of. Because to make it possible for us to be part of God’s kingdom at all, God was willing to suffer first. Not long after Jesus gave this speech, he was arrested and sentenced to death on a cross. And what the Bible means when it talks about the gospel is, that Jesus died to make us an offer. The offer to mend the relationship between God and us, that we so willingly broke. That he would take our imperfections and shortcomings. Take the things that separate us from God, that make us unfit to live in his perfect kingdom, on himself. So we can now come to God and into his kingdom again. Not because we earned it, but because Jesus made it possible with his suffering for us.
And if we accept this offer. Live our lives with God, he doesn’t only promise that he will come one day to end our pain. But help us through these birth pains already. When Jesus died, the Bible says that the sun went dark. A part of what Jesus had announced in verse 24 already happened 2000 years ago a little bit outside of Jerusalem. Because on that day God’s kingdom broke into our world. Not physically yet, but Jesus promised to be with his people in the birth pains from that moment until the end already.
And when we come to him with our pain, we can already experience God wiping our tears away. Can experience how he cares for us when we lose our job, feel worthless and don’t see a way out anymore. And even when things don’t work out like we hoped they would. When dreams are left unfulfilled. People close to you suffer or people leave you. Then we can find comfort in the fact, that this is not the end, but just the birth pains leading to a great joy. A joy that like the first look on your new born child, will drive out every memory of the pain before. Will make us say, that it was worth it every step of the way, if it lead to God and his kingdom.
Maybe this is all very new to you tonight. And if that is the case, this text probably raised as many questions as it answered. And I just want you to know, we would love to talk to you about that. I know this was one of the heavier sermons and that especially with Jesus coming to earth and eternity with him can be a challenging thought. If you want to talk, I will be staying here on stage after the service. You can just come up and we grab a bite to eat and talk about whatever was left unanswered.
But maybe you say: I want to start with this Jesus. I want to experience myself, what this joy can look like. Then you can also come to me, or maybe the friend that brought you. We would love to pray with you and start your journey with God. It’s an amazing offer that you will only really understand and appreciate, once you accepted it. So if this is something you want to do, we would be more than happy to pray with you.
And if you are already living with God but are experiencing these birth pains. At work, at home, maybe in people’s lives close to you. Then I hope this text encouraged you to keep your trust in God. To keep in mind, that Jesus knew all the things would happen to you and me. Knows how hard it is, because he went through it himself. But that his wonderful plan is still in effect. That no matter what our lives will look like here, he will wipe away every tear and heal every injury this world and people on it could cause us.
But I hope this text also reminds us of a second thing: Because there are many people around us without this hope. God’s whole point of not coming back yet, is so others can hear of what Jesus has done for them as well. The people in your family, your friends. The people you work with or your buddy of the sports team you play in. And at this point I often hear: I would love that but I don’t know how. I would love to tell him or her about this joy, but how can I even start a normal conversation about this? They will just get angry or not care about it.
Jesus says in verse 11: 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.
Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about what and how we talk to our friends and colleagues. But Jesus says: I am with you in this as well. If you think you are not good enough or you are scared of starting a conversation, you can ask me for help. And this will lead to opportunities, we often wouldn’t have even imagined.
I have experienced that myself the other week. I was getting my hair cut. And the guys running the place know that I am a pastor. And I thought: God I would love to talk to them about you. But I was pretty tired and couldn’t even start a normal conversation with them. So I didn’t think that would be happening any time soon. But 5 minutes later a man walks in, saying: I need a haircut, otherwhise I look like a terrorist like you do. He was a friend of the guy cutting hair, so it was just a joke. But from that we went to the attacks in Christchurch, to the differences between the Bible and the Koran. And for the next half hour we were chatting about faith and what experiences they had made with other Christians.
I am not saying that from now on you will have people accepting God left and right. What the other person does with the invitation is between them and God. But it’s a reminder, that if we found this God already, we should share it with the people around us. With actions or with words. And to sometimes even take the risk of not feeling prepared, but trusting God, that he will use whatever you can offer to make his wonderful kingdom grow.