Mark 13: An Introduction
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Mark 13: An Introduction

Mark 13:1–37  (ID: 2888)

It can be easy to bend the Bible to conform to our own biases, especially when the text is unclear. With a passage like Mark 13, which even scholars and theologians can’t agree upon, Alistair Begg encourages us to study the Bible and humbly sit under its instruction rather than pressing our own understanding upon the text. When a passage is difficult, we can rest in the assurance that God’s Word is infallible and that it is given to us to provide clarity, not confusion.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Mark, Volume 7

The Last Days and Christ’s Return Mark 13:1–37 Series ID: 14107

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Mark and to chapter 13. It’s page 849. And there are Bibles around you in the pews, if you would care to use one. They’re there for your help. I’m going to read the entire chapter, and I think you’ll find it helpful to follow along. I think it’s easier to concentrate. I know I always do that. Especially, we have children with us this morning, and there’s something very precious about following your mom or your dad’s finger along the page. If you don’t know that now, you’ll know it when you’re my age.

Mark 13:1:

“And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’

“And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?’ And Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“‘But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

“‘But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been [seen] from the beginning of the creation that God [allowed] until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “Look, there he is!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

“‘But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“‘But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.’”


It’s a good finish to the reading, isn’t it? It’s a word of exhortation—especially to some of you, I’ve noticed already, but… Think we pause and pray?

Gracious God, we’ve asked for the work of the Holy Spirit to descend upon our hearts. We pray now that the Spirit of God will illumine to us the Scriptures. You’ve given them to us by way of revelation, your Word. And now we pray for the work of the Holy Spirit by way of illumination, so that we might be able to come to terms with what it really means and how it applies. We need your help, and we humbly pray to this end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

It is important that we actually study the Bible and sit underneath the instruction of the Bible, rather than that we bring our understanding of it and press it in upon the text.

Well, the final letter that we have of Paul—that is reckoned to be his final letter that we have, in any case—is 2 Timothy. And it is in 2 Timothy that he is announcing the fact of his departure, and so he is entrusting some of his responsibility to this young pastor and teacher. And as he gives him guidelines for ministry, he gives him certain words of warning—certain words that are cautionary words—and then words that are more directive.

The caution goes along the lines of making sure that Timothy does not encourage his congregation in Ephesus to become the kind of people who are, if you like, theological nitpickers, who are fiddling around with all kinds of battles about words. And he says that the reason that he doesn’t want them to become like this is because when you engage in these kind of theoretical ramblings, then they will be of no help to the individual who engages in them, and they may actually undermine the faith of some who are listening in on these things.[1]

And so, having expressed that cautionary note, he then says to Timothy, “This is what I want you to do, Timothy: I want you to make sure that you aim for the approval of God.” In the King James Version, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God”—2 Timothy 2:15. “Aim for God’s approval by being the kind of person who, when he works with the Scriptures, has no need to be ashamed, because, Timothy, I want you to be rightly dividing the word of truth. Cutting a straight line through the text. Not being a deviator. Not being someone who is delighted by notions of intrigue and so on, but studying to make sure that you have no reason for shame, when finally you stand before God, in the way in which you have handled the text of Scripture.”

Now, that is timeless instruction. It is instruction not only for Timothy as a young pastor in the first century, but it is instruction for every pastor-teacher in every century. It is always relevant, in every part of the Bible. It is particularly relevant, I would suggest to you, when you come to a chapter such as the one that is now before us, Mark chapter 13. Because these verses are difficult verses. I read the whole chapter; I tried to read it as clearly as I could, so that the sense of the complexity and emerging perplexity would dawn upon you even as we read it—that if you’re thinking at all, you would have said, “Oh, dear me, I thought that I’d just understood that there, and now it’s gone and taken a turn in another direction.” And that’s because these verses are difficult, and because their interpretation throughout all of time has been the occasion of all kinds of debate. And if you have been around Christian circles for any time, then you know that to be the case.

Leon Morris says that the reason for this kind of controversial debate is because “there are some puzzling exegetical problems.”[2] That is masterful understatement, I would suggest—that there are not just some puzzling exegetical problems, but it is an exegetical minefield. In other words, once you just open the door into 13, it’s like you went up to your knees in a quagmire, and you find yourself trying to extricate yourself as quickly and as carefully as you possibly can. And the reason for the exegetical problems is on account of the fact that we find ourselves trying to discern how much of what Jesus says has to do specifically with the issue of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and how much of what Jesus has to say has to do with the end of the age—with the end of time, with the prospect of his return. And as you read through 13—and I trust that you will continue to read it and study it on your own—you realize that there is a sense in which these two perspectives are telescoped, or they are conflated. And that’s what makes it hard to reckon with. And that’s the challenge that is before us.

Ideally, this morning, I would like to speak for one hour, not for half an hour. I’m not going to; you can be relieved at that. But the reason I say that is because what I’m about to do really ought to be done and immediately followed with the text. But I only have so much time. Therefore, I had to decide, “Am I going to leave this opening part alone, go directly to the text, and assume a knowledge on the part of the congregation, or am I going to make sure the congregation understands our line of approach to the text, so that when we study the text itself, we will have at least some kind of sense of where we stand and where we’re going?”

Let me put it in this way. The biggest problem for amateur golfers—and maybe other amateur kinds of sports people—the number one issue that amateur golfers face is alignment. Is alignment. It’s not actually about grip or many other things, because if the alignment is wrong—if the way you stand up to the ball is wrong—then no matter how you do everything else, the ball will end up in the wrong place, because you are aligned incorrectly.

Now, keep that thought in mind as you come to Mark chapter 13, because what we’re going to do this morning is think for a moment or two about alignment—about how do you line up to the text of Scripture? How do you stand up to the text of Scripture, so that you do not simply read into the text of Scripture your own preconceptions? So that you do not simply look into this and find reflected your convictions that are dear to you over a long period of time. In other words, so that we actually study the Bible, and we sit underneath the instruction of the Bible, rather than that we bring our understanding of it and press it in upon the text.

Now, technically, this is hermeneutics. Hermeneutics. Hermeneutic is a word that comes from a Greek word which simply means “interpretation.” And hermeneutics is the branch of theology that is concerned with the interpretation of Scripture. It’s a technical area, and you can spend a long time in it. We’re not going to do that. It takes you into the realm of literary criticism. It takes you into the realm of various philosophical aspects of things. But at its very core, there are certain simplicities that allow us to proceed with clarity. And perhaps the most basic of all is one that I think we have come to share together over time. And that is that we routinely say to one another as we turn to the Scriptures—especially if there is perplexity, difficulty, in the text—we remind ourselves of this core notion, which is—you should all be able to say this immediately to me—“The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” Okay?

Now, you bring that to bear upon Mark chapter 13. That immediately sets one free from all kinds of red herrings and all kinds of speculative notions and all kinds of affirmations made by people with strong personalities that read big books late into the night. When those people come to you, remind yourself that “although I may not know very much about this passage, I do know this: that this is not a theological Rubik’s Cube—that this has been given here in Scripture in this way by God the revealer, enabled by the Holy Spirit, who illumines the text and gives to us clarity and understanding.”

Now, when you take that—and I take it that we are agreed on it—then we can come to Mark 13, realizing that this passage—along with Matthew 24 and Luke chapter 21, which are parallel passages in the other two Synoptic Gospels—that this passage has been and is interpreted variously by devout scholars. In other words, by people that you read and that you know and that you listen to. And if you were to take their views on Mark chapter 13 and try and line them all up with one another, you would be sorely disappointed. Because you would realize that although these fellows are equally committed to the authority of the Bible, equally committed to understanding what it means, equally committed to teaching it properly, they actually flat-out disagree. Now, that ought not to disturb us. Because they’re not disagreeing on a main thing or a plain thing. They are disagreeing on that which is subservient, ultimately, to the truth that is being conveyed. And I hope that as we go through this, you will come to terms with this, and it will be of help to you in all of your reading of the Bible.

The next book that we’re going to read as elders together is the latest book by Christopher Ash. And it is about hearing the Spirit of God through the Word of God. And in this book, he identifies what he refers to as two equal and opposite dangers in terms of interpreting the Bible. He gathers his thoughts under two words: one word is “anarchy,” and the other word is “tyranny.”[3] Anarchy, tyranny.

And so he says, when you go to the local Bible study, you will often encounter what he refers to as “interpretative chaos.”[4] All right? It’s the blind leading the blind. There’s some poor soul is the leader—I’m not describing Life Groups now; could never possibly happen at a Parkside Life Group—but there is some poor soul who is responsible for presiding over this interpretative chaos, and if you don’t hold on tight, you should probably make a run for the hills. Because within five minutes, Mrs. Jenkins has now explained to you what this passage means to her. Unfortunately, Mr. Jenkins, her husband, has explained that that is not what the passage means to him; it means something entirely different to him.

We then have to help the people understand that there is a difference between two people saying that a text has two objectively different meanings—right? That a text has two objectively different meanings: “This means this.” “No, it doesn’t. It means that.” That is one thing to say that, and it is another thing to say, “This text has more than one implication.” You understand? Someone says, “This is what it means.” Person says, “No, that’s not what it means.” And the leader goes, “Why don’t we move to our prayer time now?” Or, “Let’s have some more… you were bringing the coffee, weren’t you, honey? Let’s go to the coffee now”—and just breathes a sigh of relief and makes a run for his car. That’s interpretative chaos.

Now, Ash then goes on to say, when that is present in a congregation, the way that most people respond to it in the pulpit is what he refers to as “interpretive dogmatism,” so that anarchy is then replaced by tyranny. And a congregation can move very quickly from anarchy to tyranny. Anarchy is too unsettling: “I don’t know what anything means. Well, I’ll just go on Sunday, and the guru can tell us all what it means.” So then, all of a sudden now, we’ve ceased to think. All we do is wait until we’re told what this passage means.

Now, don’t misunderstand this. Of course, God has given us pastors and teachers; we’re supposed to do the hard work and so on. But remember what I just said: there’s fifteen different interpretations of Mark chapter 13. Do you think I’m going to be so pompous as to tell you that I am the guy that has understood Mark chapter 13, and no one ever has before, and nobody ever will again? I think you know me well enough to say, one, I wouldn’t say that, and two, if I said it, you’d shout out, “Baloney!” Any way you slice it, it’s baloney! No question about it.

So, you have chaos replaced with dogmatism. Dogmatism reads like this: “There is only one correct meaning of Mark chapter 13, and I have it.” Okay? Now, if you don’t know that that exists, you’re not hanging around the people I’m hanging around with. Because I can tell you that I’ve had that said to me on many occasions about a passage of Scripture. I’ve been playing golf with somebody, the person has said to me, “I just finished reading chapter 6. There is only one possible way to understand that—namely, the way I understand it.” I want to say, “No, there are at least six possible ways to understand it, and yours may not be the right way.” That’s very unsettling.

God’s Word is infallible, but no individual is an infallible interpreter of God’s Word.

So you will find that you’re gravitating to either the interpretative chaos camp or the interpretative dogmatism camp. Both camps are dangerous and should be avoided—particularly interpretative tyranny from the pulpit. Be careful when you hear people from the pulpit or on the radio or on the TV, and their tyranny arrives at the party dressed up in the “authority of the text”: “I believe in the authority of the text.” Of course we do! But actually, what is often being said is, “I believe in the authority of my view of the text.” There’s a big difference. Because, you see, God’s Word is infallible, but no individual is an infallible interpreter of God’s Word. You get that? God’s Word is infallible—it’s true in every dimension—but no individual is an infallible interpreter of God’s Word. “Now we see through a glass, darkly”; one day we will see “face to face.”[5] It is inevitable.

And it is that conviction which needs to be part of our thinking when we come to a text like Mark 13. The end of all things, verse 24. Soon as you get to, like, a verse 24, and the people come out of the bunkers: “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling…” Oh, the people go, “I love this stuff! Let me get started on this.” And it’s quite fantastic, really. And apparently nobody pays any attention at that point, when they’re having one of those flights of fancy, to verse 32: “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows.” “No one knows.” How hard is that to understand? “No one knows.” Don’t waste my time, please, with your big, fat book! “No one knows.” The angels don’t know; Jesus didn’t know. If he didn’t know, why in the world do you think you know? Cut out the nonsense! Okay? And yet, for my lifetime, I have been on the receiving end—I could be buried under a vast mound—of material that is seeking to disprove what Jesus says absolutely clearly there in verse 32.

At the time of Christ’s first advent, there were all kinds of views concerning how it would take place. Because you have all the prophetic words—all the shadowy lines from the Old Testament are running forward. They have asked for a king, but no king has really fulfilled what they looked for in a king, and so they look for this one who will sit on David’s throne forever and ever. “What’s it going to be like when the king comes?” They’ve had these prophets, and they’ve spoken well of God, but it seems that there is more to be said: “We look for the prophet who is to come.” The priests have offered sacrifice, and yet still they go back day after day after day: “When will there be this ultimate sacrifice for sin?” So you have those threads, and other threads like them, set in shadowy motion, running all the way through.

And there were a variety of views about how it would actually work itself out. Surely those people who were anticipating the arrival of a king would never have gone to look for him in a manger scene in Bethlehem. And so, what happened was, it took the event of the incarnation to clarify all the bits and pieces of the jigsaw. If you like, all of the shadowy lines that are forming up suddenly make sense only in the reality of the event, only in the historic event. Now, people are able to look back and say, “Well, that’s what the prophet meant.”

Now, let me ask you a question: Why do you think it would be any different in terms of the second coming of Jesus Christ? It’s going to take the reality of the event to allow us to understand all of the shadowy jigsaw bits and pieces that are represented even in Mark 13 alone. One day, when Christ returns, there surely will be somebody there who is just finishing a cup of coffee, explaining their view of the end of time, dogmatically saying, “And it cannot possibly happen until seven weeks from Tuesday,” and then: [sound of trumpet blast]. And someone said, “What was that?”

“Oh, that was Jesus. He just came back.”

“No, he can’t come back, because, look, I just was expla—”

“Look, hey, he’s here!”

Right? You get it?

That’s why the creeds are so good. We said the Apostles’ Creed this morning. It’s the basics, isn’t it? It doesn’t delve into the minutiae of things. It says, you know, “Christ was born. Christ died. Christ was raised. Christ ascended. Christ will return.” In other words, it focuses on the things that are undeniably clear. And yet people come to me all the time, and they say, “Yes, I heard what you said this morning, and I know what you’re trying to do,” and “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But don’t you believe that we’re in the last days?” Okay?

Now, I know what they mean by that. They don’t actually mean, Do I believe that we’re in the last days? They mean, “Do you think that the present circumstances in relationship to the possibility of Iraq getting nuclear missiles is directly related to some obscure verse in the book of Daniel?” That’s what they really mean. But since I know that and I don’t have to fiddle with that, I always tell them, “Of course I believe we’re in the last days.” Because we are in the last days. Because the last days form, frame, all of the time in history from the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the return of Jesus Christ. Okay? So we’ve been in the last days already for two thousand years. And we might be in the last days for another two thousand years! I know that there will be “last days” to the last days, but no one knows the day or the hour.

Now, it is this, you see, that helps us—helps us not only come to terms with, you know, the Gospel of Mark and the challenges here, but it also helps us to articulate a Christian view of the world. Because, you see, what Mark 13 is saying… Somebody might say, “What’s the possible purpose in studying Mark 13? I brought a friend along, and they have no idea about Christianity, and they thought that you would say something sensible, and you’ve plowed around in all of that stuff. It’s unbelievable. I’m so disappointed in you.” And so—yeah, I recognize that, so let me try and bail myself out.

Here’s the thing. Here’s the relevance of Mark chapter 13. See, what Mark chapter 13 is saying, in part, is this: that the God who initiated time—because before there was time, before there was anything, there was God—so the God who initiated time and who has broken into time in the person of Jesus is the one who controls the end of time and the transformation of all that is now into all that will be. That’s what it’s saying.

Why does that matter? Well, it matters because it says to men and women, “The Christian conviction is not simply some view of Jesus living in my heart, but the Christian conviction is transformative in relationship to the way we view the totality of human existence.” It struck me this week, when I was finishing up a book that I bought for my wife so that I could read it myself, and—but I don’t want her to know that, except she’s listening to me now—but I didn’t, really. I honestly, seriously, hon, I did buy it for you. But then after I bought it, I thought, “Well, I can read this too.” But anyway… If any of you read Alexander McCall Smith—which you shouldn’t, because he’s just making a fortune off you. He was a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University, and he writes all these books—The No. 1 Detective Agency, and then the Mrs. Dalhousie mystery series, and so on—and he has a series called Scotland Street. And his most recent book is Sunshine on Scotland Street.

And in Sunshine on Scotland Street—are you enjoying this story?—in Sunshine on Scotland Street, Angus, one of the key characters, is getting married. And as he stands before the one conducting the ceremony, he is struck by the solemnity of the language that is used. They’re using ancient language in relationship to the marriage ceremony. And he is struck by phrases like “in the age of our innocency.” “In the age of our innocency.” Which is a reference in the wedding ceremony to Adam and Eve in the garden: “in the age of our innocency.” And struck by the fact that this is taking place before God as well as before this congregation. And as he stands there, he reflects on this, and he says to himself, “There was a time when we really did think that humanity had a future and that our tiny human lives, our tiny human concerns, meant something, and that we were not just the brief tenants of an insignificant planet in a great and incomprehensible emptiness.”[6] See what he’s saying? We can look back to a time before the umbilical cord was cut between reality, time, history, and meaning. But that time is all gone now. Now we know ourselves simply to be putting in our time on “an insignificant planet,” dealing with “a great and incomprehensible emptiness.”

Do you realize that your friends and neighbors—they may not articulate it in that way—but unless they have come up with a view of the world that addresses that issue, that’s exactly what they’re dealing with. When you see them on 77 North tomorrow heading for downtown, and you see them again heading south out of downtown, and you meet them in the hallway, and you see them going through their routine deals, you’ve gotta realize this: that unless they have come to an understanding of how they were made, who made them, why they were made—this God is the God who saves them—then that’s exactly what they’re dealing with. Just on an insignificant planet, living with a vast and incomprehensible emptiness.

And Mark chapter 13 says no. The significance of the temple falling down has significance not simply in AD 70; it has an ongoing significance. The question of the rise and fall of empires has significance. Not because it is a random collocation of atoms—the unfolding drama without meaning—but because God is sovereign over history.

Do you know God? Is this your view? You see, the great danger is that you get into a chapter like Mark chapter 13, and it simply becomes, you know, sort of wholescale eschatological argument. Nothing could be less helpful.

Well, let me stop. In three minutes, I will stop. Maybe four. Let’s say these things.

Number one, the whole purpose of God in giving us his Word is that we might have an intelligible message, not that we would deal with an incomprehensible mystery. We could unpack that, but we won’t. In other words, he has given us his Word for the sake of clarity, not to introduce us to confusion.

The reason the Bible was revealed to us is not so that we can sit around and theoretically debate it but in order that we might do it.

Secondly, the purpose of his Word is practical and not theoretical. For example, in Deuteronomy 29:29, where it says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God”—which is a verse that you ought to know when someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to—“the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children”—there’s not a full stop there; there’s a comma there—“belong to us and to our children,” in order that we might “do all the words” that are written in the law. The reason that the stuff was revealed to us is not so that we can sit around and theoretically debate it but in order that we might do it.

And that comes across clearly here in Mark 13, doesn’t it? “‘Tell us, when will these things be, … what will be the sign when all these things are about to accomplished?’ And Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one leads you astray.’” That’s an interesting answer, isn’t it? He doesn’t immediately say, “Oh, good! I’m glad you asked that question. Let me get down to the business of it immediately.” “See that no one leads you astray.” And all the way through, “Be on your guard. Don’t believe it. Stay awake.”

Thirdly, we also need to understand what is obscure in light of what is clear and what is partial in view of what is complete. It’s very easy for us to see in the Bible what we want to see. And some of us read the Bible as if we’re looking into a mirror that simply reinforces our preconceptions. We only look into the Bible… We read Mark 13, and we say, “There’s no way that I’m going to really pay much attention to this, because I know what Mark 13 means.” Do you?

Some of us actually read the Bible as if we’re looking at a piece of art in the Cleveland Art Gallery. I’m not good in art galleries. I’m not good in museums at all; I go through them in about seven minutes. So I am a Philistine; I recognize that entirely, I confess to it. But for the life of me, I think I see most of the stuff. And I’ve stood beside these people who stand in front of those paintings, and I marvel at what they come up with. And if you read it in the New York Times or if you read art reviews, you’re like, “How does anybody write this stuff?” you know? They’re standing in front of the thing, say, “Scale… complexity… tone… structure.” I’m like, “Excuse me. Have you ever seen this picture? I mean, do you see what he’s painting? Forget all that stuff for the moment. Do you see why he painted this?”

And some people read their Bibles in that same way. They’re gonna go through Mark 13; they take it apart, parse every sentence, and at the end of it, they don’t even know why Mark 13’s in the Bible. Because they read the Bible as if they were viewing art in an art gallery. The way to read the Bible is if the Bible is a window to us that opens up the subject matter of the Bible, which is that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.[7] So that when you read Mark chapter 13, you say, “This part of the Bible is related to every other part of the Bible, which is about the fact that God has spoken in a way that brings clarity and not confusion.”

Therefore, when we approach the Bible, as we will over the coming weeks, we must do so, first of all, cautiously. Cautiously. When I failed my driver’s test—not here in America; it’s much too easy here—but when I failed it as a seventeen-year-old boy in England, I know why I failed it, because it was written down on a sheet that was given to me afterwards. And this is what it said on the sheet: “Proceeding from a junction without due care and attention.” Okay? So that’s what I had done. I had proceeded from a junction without due care and attention, and he said, “You failed your test. We can’t have you doing that. Because you’ll be a danger to yourself and a danger to everybody else.” Okay. You got the point? You proceed cautiously. Cautiously, from chapter 12 into chapter 13. Do not proceed from the junction without due care and attention. You’ll cause trouble to yourself and everybody who’s around you.

Secondly, do so diligently. Diligently. If all you want to do in terms of Bible is just open up at a page and stick your finger in and find a blessed thought, then… tough! But if you want to actually get to terms with the Bible, you need to be diligent. That’s why the Bereans were such an example in Acts 17. They “were more noble” than the Jews in Thessalonica, Luke says, because they examined the Scriptures every day “to see if these things were so.”[8] In other words, Paul—the apostle Paul—is preaching from the Old Testament; they said, “We better go back and check that.” That seems to me to be a good word.

And finally, we need to proceed humbly. Humbly. I just came across a new little book written by someone that I never heard of before. I was reading it this week; it’s called A Little Book for New Theologians. And in this book, Kapic says, “We cannot fathom how all things work together; every time we believe our accounts are exhaustive, we inevitably discover just how much we do not know or all that we have misunderstood.”[9] “We inevitably discover just how much we do not know or all that we have misunderstood.”

So with all that said, having lined up to chapter 13, we will go forward. Which would be the start of the second half hour—the second half of the hour—but we’re not going to do that.

So we’re going to pray, and I invite you to bow with me as we pray.

I want to use the prayer that Calvin used routinely as he finished the study of the Bible with his people in Geneva. And this is what he said: “Now, let us cast ourselves down before the majesty of our good God, asking him to forgive our sins and renew us in the image of Christ and to fulfill all his purposes in us and through us.”

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] See 2 Timothy 2:14.

[2] Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, 2nd ed., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 3 (repr., Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1988), 312.

[3] Christopher Ash, Hearing the Spirit: Knowing the Father through the Son (2011; repr., Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2015), 86.

[4] Ash, 87.

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV).

[6] Alexander McCall Smith, Sunshine on Scotland Street, 44 Scotland Street 8 (2012; repr., New York: Anchor, 2014), 48.

[7] See 2 Corinthians 5:19.

[8] Acts 17:11 (ESV).

[9] Kelly M. Kapic, A Little Book for New Theologians: How and Why to Study Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 74.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.