SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 25, 2012
 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country.  When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.  And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully.  And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed.  He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.  What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.  Have you not read this Scripture: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”  And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.
-- Mark 12:1-12, ESV
The signs of the times are everywhere. It’s almost Christmas! The town is painted green and red. Christmas trees are on display. Christmas songs are playing in the public square. Manger scenes are put out to point unmistakably to the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just as there are many signs that point back to the first coming of Jesus Christ, the Bible indicates that there will be signs that point to His second coming as well. Many suggest that these signs will first be planted in the nation of Israel. As any daily newspaper indicates, there is a lot happening in the Middle East these days, especially in Israel. Are these events signs of the times of the second coming of the Lord?
Today I’ll let Jesus speak for Himself in a pungent parable to the nation of Israel. In it He reveals three signs of the times that foretell the destruction of Israel and the end of the Old Covenant. I think the same three signs point the way to another time of destruction, this time for Israel, the Middle East, and the whole world. Read Jesus’ prophecy, and look for all three signs of the times, in Mark 12:1-12.
A Biblical/Historical Interpretation of the Parable
Elementary Bible students can easily interpret the key characters in this parable our Lord preached during His last week on earth, the first time He came. The “man” is God, the “vineyard” occupied by “tenants” is the nation of Israel, each “servant” represents a prophet or preacher of God’s word, and the “beloved son” is no doubt a reference to the Son of God, the Savior of the word, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Likewise, the meaning is clear and prophetic, since Jesus preached this parable in the days just before it was fulfilled by His death on the cross. Ever since God chose Israel to be His special people, they sinned and rebelled against Him. God sent judges, good kings, and a steady parade of prophets to call them to godly repentance and good faith. Sometimes they heeded and were helped. Most times and more often as time went by, they rebelled and moved farther and farther away from God. After so many of His prophets were mistreated and killed, God sent the ultimate prophet, His only begotten Son, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and offer a new and everlasting covenant. And for this, the Israelites conspired with the politicians of Rome to betray, arrest, beat, and kill the beloved son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The end of this story, to which the parable attests and other biblical texts corroborate, is that Israel was utterly destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. The temple was destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was burned, Jewish residents were slaughtered wholesale, and the remnant of the race was scattered across the globe. The man the Jewish leaders killed, Jesus of Nazareth, rose again and became “the cornerstone” (ref. Psalm 118:23-23) of Christianity, the only true religion and right path to the true and righteous God. Israel became an irrelevant nation and Judaism an outdated religion.
As usual, this was “the Lord’s doing,” for His glory and the good of His people. As usual, what God says always comes true. And, as usual, there are usually some signs pointing to what will happen before it happens.
What were the signs of the times that pointed to the Lord’s death and the destruction of Israel? Are the same signs in view now? Do they point to another destruction of Israel that may be broader in scope? Do they have anything to say to Americans? Do they foreshadow the second coming of Jesus Christ?
A Personal/Spiritual Interpretation of the Parable
This parable points out three places where the nation of Israel went wrong. We can plant a sign in each place. Israel did not read these signs two thousand years ago and it led to their destruction. And since that time, even though a political coop brought back the geopolitical nation of Israel in 1948, there has been no peace in the Middle East, and there never will be, until the Prince of Peace lands on earth with a rod of iron to bring His ultimate and eternal rule.
Sign number one is a man speaking while other people turn their backs to him. The man could be Isaiah or Jeremiah, John the Baptist or even Jesus, or any number of men and women who for years have preached the gospel and the word of God with clarity and integrity. The people with their backs turned represent the vast majority of the world that will not hear nor head God’s word. The world pays attention to Fox News and CNN, Wall Street and Washington, and to the political and military turmoil in the Middle East. They must be looking for a sign, but they are the sign. They are the ones turning their backs to the word of God. Once again, there will come a day when God says enough is enough. When the Israelites refused to listen to Jesus’ parable and killed Him, destruction was upon them within one generation. What will God do, and when, to a world in which an extremely small minority believes and behaves according to the word of God?
Sign number two is an empty fruit basket. The parable proclaims that God demands fruit, but the tenants would give none. The preaching of John the Baptist demanded “fruit in keeping with repentance” (ref. Matthew 3:8). Jesus expects His followers to “bear much fruit” (ref. John 15:1-16). The old and new covenants are both evangelical in nature, with the recipients required to bring glory, and people, to God (ref. Isaiah 49:6; Zechariah 8:23; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). But where are the love, joy, and peace of God pervasive in this world in which we live? Where are large numbers of people truly becoming disciples, and not merely making decisions, for the Lord Jesus Christ? Maybe we are not working hard enough to produce fruit. Maybe they are just not listening anymore (see sign number one). Maybe God will be patient a little while longer. Maybe He will not, and the second coming is knocking at the door.
Sign number three is a crucifix over a closed Bible in a vacant church. As surely as one thing leads to another, so the first two signs lead to the third. In Jesus’ day, they would not head the prophets and they would not give God fruit, but instead persecuted and put to death the Son of God. In our day, the same signs are flashing. People will not listen to God. People will not lead godly lives. Bibles collect dust. Church pews are emptying at an alarming rate. Where are the people to give love, respect, reverence, worship, and obedience to God? They are few and far between in Israel, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas, especially the United States of America.
I am not a dispensationalist, so I don’t see anything happening in Israel of spiritual significance that has not already been happening for two thousand years. I am not a pessimist, but rather a student of Scripture and culture, and I can plainly see that one is not affecting the other very much anymore. I am fully devoted, Bible-believing follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and a responsible member of His church. Therefore, I am going to celebrate sincerely the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day. And, on the day He returns, I am going to celebrate again, only with more fullness and freedom, because then I will see Him face to face.
I see the signs, all three of them, getting bigger and bolder every day. I see people in my country turning their backs on God in the same way they did in God’s country of Israel two thousand years ago. I see Christianity plagued by nominal belief and hypocrisy instead of bearing the precious fruit that belongs to God. I see the death of cross-centered, Christ-centered preaching that makes nothing of the death of Christ for depraved sinners, and churches becoming either empty entertainment centers or literally empty in the process. With my eyes I can see the signs and with my ears I am listening for that knock on the door. I am going to be ready. Are you?
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 11, 2012
 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him,  and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”  Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.  Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”  And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’  But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet.  So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
-- Mark 11:27-33, ESV
I grew up in the 70’s when bumper-stickers boomed. My friends and I even sold them to finance our senior trip. Sometimes you could see the entire back of cars covered with them. One of the most popular bumper-stickers in that time period read “Question Authority.”
Why would you want to question authority? The better question is, why not? We humans are rebels at heart and we don’t like authority or authoritative people. So we rebel against our parents, our school teachers, our pastors, even the legal authorities, while Pink Floyd plays “Another Brick in the Wall” in the background.
But not all rebellion or questioning of authority is childish or sinful. There is a conscientious questioning of authority. The Protestant Reformation was sparked by it. The United States of America was founded upon it. Great scientific and spiritual discoveries have been caused by it. Often the right thing to do is to question authority, just like the religious leaders did in Mark 11:27-33.
The religious rulers were right to question Jesus’ authority.
We boo and hiss when “the chief priests and the scribes” enter the picture, but remember that public opinion in Jesus’ day declared them to be the good guys. Religion was far and away the most important matter in Jewish culture and the leaders had the responsibility to lead. For three years Jesus had performed amazing miracles, preached radical sermons, and now He had come into Jerusalem during the most high and holy days of the year riding on a donkey like a king, claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah, cleansing the temple of its traditional trade, and claiming the authority of Almighty God. Questioning Jesus was the right and responsibility of the Jewish leaders on this day.
So, they questioned authority. They questioned Jesus as to the ultimate authority with which He did the things He did, over the past three days and over the past three years. It was a good and fair question, even though it was asked with dim and darkened hearts. I really don’t think they wanted to know the truthful answer. It would have meant surrendering or submitting their authority to Jesus, and their stiff necks and knees were incapable of bowing. Hearing their question, and knowing their hearts, Jesus answered their question with a question.
Jesus was right to question John the Baptist’s authority.
With infinite wisdom, Jesus tied the question of His authority to that of His forerunner, John the Baptist. “The baptism of John” is a reference to the entire message and ministry of John, and “heaven” was a well-known Jewish euphemism for God.
Without going into too much detail, let us summarize the message of John the Baptist. He preached repentance from sin and selfishness. He preached devotion to God and love for your fellow man. He preached that One with the ultimate authority of God was coming to earth. And when John saw Jesus by the Jordan River, he preached that Jesus is indeed “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (ref. John 1:29). Everything that John preached was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and everything that Jesus Christ fulfilled was written in Old Testament prophesy, a field in which these chief priests and scribes should have been experts. So, was John’s message and ministry from mere human invention; or, was it from the one true and living God?
Here is the precise point at which false religion fails. It cannot answer the great questions about God. False, pharisaical, legalistic, power-hungry religion is an outward shell made to make man look good and make God manageable. That’s why these false religious rulers could not answer the question. If they answered “from heaven,” then God would no longer be in their neat, little box, and they would have to follow Jesus. If they answered “from man,” then they would no longer look so good in front of the people and might lose their political power. They were you-know-what if they did, and you-know-what if they didn’t. So they just froze, like a deer in Joey Clampit’s motorcycle’s headlights.
Let us learn from these fools as we seek to find the logical and spiritual conclusion to this text. There is no time for indecision, no spot in the middle of the road, no neutrality when it comes to the great questions of God in Christ. As our Lord Himself said, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (ref. Matthew 12:30).
You are right to question God’s authority.
The great question of this text is, “Who is Jesus and should He have authority over my life?” The answer from God is, “I’m not going to tell you any more than I’ve already told you.” So, make up your mind!
Before you make up your mind, ask great questions of God. You’d be crazy not to. Believe me, God is big enough to take your questions and He is gracious enough to have already supplied the answers. But beware, for the questions you ask and the answers you choose will become the most important decisions of your life.
The first question believers should ask themselves and unbelievers is this: Is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the word of God merely good mythology or errant fiction? There are many outside and inside the church who would answer a resounding yes. If yes is your answer, stop here. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200, have a nice life without God and then go directly to, well, you know.
The next question: Is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the word of God merely good stories about good men, including the mere carpenter’s son from Nazareth? Again, there is a majority outside and inside the church who would answer in the affirmative. The Christian religion, removed from all divine claims, has sparked human wars and eased human suffering. Even is Jesus were only a human, humanity for the most part is better off because of Him. Love has been preached, hospitals have been built, schools have been started, and food has been delivered, even by professing Christians who do not believe Jesus Christ is Lord. Is the baptism, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus an exaggerated story of a fine man who lived a long time ago? If so, Jesus may help you have a better life, but this Jesus cannot grant you eternal life.
The ultimate question is this: Is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the word of God a myth, is it just from man, or is it the message of God. If it is from God, then what does this mean? Consider this answer from R.C. Sproul’s book, What Is Reformed Theology:
“The universe is no democracy. It is a monarchy. God himself has appointed his beloved Son as the preeminent King. Jesus does not rule by referendum, but by divine right. In the future every knee will bow before him, either willingly or unwillingly. Those who refuse to do so will have their knees broken with a rod of iron.”
In other words, if the gospel and the word of God are true, then Jesus Christ is Lord. If He is our Lord, He has ultimate, unquestionable authority in our lives. What He says to do we will do, where He says to go we will go, what He says to stop we will stop, what He says to give we will give, When He says to worship and pray we will worship and pray, when He says to preach and teach we will preach and teach, wherever He leads we will go!
So go ahead and question authority. We will all live with the answers we accept. We will live with them in this life, and the life to come
JESUS IN A BAD MOOD
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 4, 2012
 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.  And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.  And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.  And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city.  As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.  And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”  And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
-- Mark 11:12-26, ESV
Have you seen the Snickers commercials where grumpy celebrities get turned back into regular people by simply eating a candy bar? “You’re just not you when you’re hungry,” they say. I suppose a little chocolate is good for hunger and may serve to keep one from getting into an angry or irritable mood.
I’ll bet the Apostles wish they had a candy bar for Jesus on the day after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Our Lord was indeed hungry and, apparently, more than just His stomach was growling. Look at what happened, and what it means, on the day we find Jesus in a bad mood. Read Mark 11:12-26.
The Cursing of the Tree
On this day Jesus was obviously hungry and went to get a bite from a local fig tree. Fig trees produce figs first, then leaves, so a leafy tree was like a Krispy Kreme with the “hot donuts” sign flashing. However, in spite of the outward sign of early figs, this tree produced no fruit. This made Jesus unhappy, in more ways than one, and He pronounced a curse upon the tree.
Was Jesus in a bad mood? Obviously. Did He curse the tree in a petty, arbitrary fit of hunger and anger? Far be it from Him. Everything that Jesus did and every word that Jesus said was perfectly calculated to communicate a message from God, be it judgment or be it mercy.
In this case it was a curse, so clearly this was a message of judgment. But upon what or whom? God is green, isn’t He, and He wouldn’t attack an innocent tree, would He? Probably not, but God isn’t nearly as concerned with trees as He is with people. And the people upon which He was pronouncing judgment was the Old Covenant nation of Israel.
In the Bible, one of the symbols for Israel is the fig tree. God said through Hosea 9:10, “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers.” Israel in Jesus’ day had become a nation of outward religious ritual (it was the Passover season) and inward spiritual bankruptcy (lack of love, joy, and peace). Like a Christ-less Christmas, they were a celebration with no purpose, a body with no breath, and quite graphically, a tree with no fruit. In other words, they were a nation of hypocrites, and nothing puts God in a bad mood more than hypocrisy.
The Cleansing of the Temple
The next thing that Jesus did was even more radical. He had done it before, according to John, at the beginning of His ministry. Now He did it at the end, and it would prove to end His ministry.
I cannot picture Jesus in a “Mr. Rogers” sweater in this scene. He threw tables and chairs. He grabbed people and tossed them out. And whether or not John’s account should be recorded here or is just repeated here, Jesus grabbed a whip and, what else do you do with a whip, He gave people a whipping. Yes, Jesus was in a very bad mood, indeed.
And then, in the worst thing you can do to religious hypocrites, Jesus quoted Scripture to them and pointed out how they had utterly violated it. The text He used was Isaiah 56:7, “These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer … for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Jesus point out that instead of being a refuge for poor Jews and a light for lost Gentiles, the religious rulers had found a way to make money off of them instead. As forefathers of the modern day televangelists, they were exploiting the religion of God to make money for themselves.
I don’t know what the word is for this. It is worse than hypocrisy. It is worse than mere greed, or dishonesty, or theft. It made Jesus, and it ought to make us, sick and it put Him in a decidedly bad mood.
The Crossing of the Line
This epoch of Jewish history was not the first time that Israel had played the hypocrite and sold their religious heritage for a bowl of soup. But I think it was the last time. Israel had crossed a line in the sand. Old Covenant Israel and the eternal and triune God were cut off from one another. Jesus cursed, cleansed, and cut them off on this day, presumably a Monday. On Friday they would cut Him off on the cross. In either case, Almighty God and national Israel were through.
Frankly, the mood and actions of God here scare me to death; not for myself and other truly saved people, but for those who play games with God. Apparently, there comes a time when the clock runs out, when grace goes sour, when mercy evaporates, when judgment cometh, when Jesus declares a permanently bad mood against a nation, a family, or most likely an individual who has repeatedly sinned against God.
“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life – to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that” (1 John 5:16). I do not totally know what this means, except the truth that there is a mood you can set, a place you can go, a line you can cross, where you will be eternally cut off from the love, grace, and mercy of God.
Maybe the dispensationalists are right, and God will give Israel another chance. They are smarter than me, but I just don’t see it. Even if it is true, two thousand years or more is a long time to be cut off from God. Maybe God will give you or some hypocrite you know another chance. But I see no promise of tomorrow in Scripture, either. There is something that every hypocrite, every greedy and exploitive person, and every run-of-the-mill lost person should do, and they should do it now. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Calling to the Faithful
As I said before, Jesus did not waste any time or words. Everything He did and said is a redemptive message from God. And even in the midst of the cursing and the casting out, there is a call from God in this story. It is the fitting and perfect ending. It is the inauguration of a New Covenant with God. It is the call to have faith in God.
It is not a call to patriotism, for patriotism is not faith. There were many Jews who thought just being a Jew, just being a leaf on the tree, would save them. They were wrong. Some people equate the United States, democracy, and Christianity as one in the same. They are three different things. Being an Israelite or being an American or being a part of any other national tree will not save your soul and deliver you from the cursing, cleansing wrath of God.
It is not a call to religion, for religion is not faith. There were many who worshiped in the temple who thought worshiping in the temple would save them, no matter how insincere or corrupt their hearts. Similarly, there are many today who think mere church attendance or membership will score enough points with God to gain eternal life. Jesus proved repeatedly that this is an empty boast.
Faith is faith. Faith is faith in God, not self nor government nor church. The latter three will fail you, but God will not, for He has promised, “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (ref. Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5). Faith is faith in God who can do anything, even the impossible. Like the hyperbolic mountain thrown into the sea, God can take the sin that separates us from Him and “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (ref. Micah 7:19). Faith is faith in God who hears our every prayer, filters it through the perfection of His divine will and providence, and grants that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (ref. James 1:17). Faith is faith in God who gives forgiveness and the grace to forgive, for “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (ref. Matthew 6:15).
Faith is big. It is bigger than any nation, bigger than any religion, bigger than all of our sin and those who sin against us. And, it is bigger than a bad mood. Faith is the promise of God, faith pleases God, and faith will keep Jesus from ever being in a bad mood, with you.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org