May 20, 2012
INTRODUCTION – In our ongoing series in the gospel of Matthew we jump into ch. 24 this morning, which along with ch. 25 forms a long two chapter discussion of how to prepare for Jesus’s return, and many of the things or events that will precede His coming. This is a challenging passage to tackle for those of us who have known the Lord for a while,….. because we cannot help but see it through the lens of whatever teachings we have been exposed to about the end times. I’m in that boat with many of you, so I trust we will all be humble and prayerful and teachable in these next weeks as we do our best to hear and heed what the Lord wants to say to us through these passages. Why don’t we start off now with a word of prayer.
Much of Matthew ch. 24 is Jesus’s response to the three questions His disciples ask Him about the end times. But because they didn’t ask the most important question re: the end times, Jesus goes on and answers that one as well. And that most important question is: How can I personally prepare for what is to come?! Or What should my response to all of this be? Or How should I live in light of all of this?
Unfortunately many of the articles and books that have been written on the end times have been more focused on the questions the disciples asked rather than the one they should have asked. The disciples’ three questions were legitimate questions though, so let’s take a look at what caused them to ask these questions; then we will look at the questions; and then we will look at Jesus’s response. vs. 1-3
So Jesus had just finished this long in your face rebuke to the Pharisees and Scribes that we have been discussing over the last few weeks in chps. 21-23. He was walking away from the temple,….. probably very grieved in His spirit at the hard hearts and seared consciences of these religious leaders, and He was on to His next assignment from Father – when the 12 disciples – evidently with great pride and misplaced security – walked up to Him and pointed out the temple buildings to Him. Perhaps they thought – “well our leaders may be losers, but God has to be impressed with our buildings!”
Jesus – knowing how the inordinate focus on buildings and places and external things had kept even His disciples from seeing the Kingdom, and seeing how He was seeking to establish His kingdom – – brought a shocking reality check to the disciples – by proclaiming to them that these magnificent buildings would soon be a pile of rubble. That proclamation to devout Jews probably made as much sense to them as some prophet walking around New York city before 9/11 proclaiming that the twin towers would soon be a pile of smoldering rubbish. Jewish pride was at its finest when gazing upon these temple buildings.
Well that proclamation stimulated immediate questions. Three to be exact. And here they are:
1. When will these things happen, meaning – when will these buildings be torn down?
2. What will be the sign of Your coming? Probably in response to vs. 39 of ch. 23, where Jesus said to the Pharisees and Scribes, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!”
3. What will be the sign of the end or the consummation of the age?
As we jump into Jesus’s answer to these questions – we are going to find that He is very concerned about how His disciples handle the things that are coming down the pike. His first concern is how they handle the deception that will be rife in the last days. Look at vs. 4, 5 (read it)
In the last days, which we are in now, and whose length or duration no one knows, Jesus says many men and women will rise up – claiming to be sent by God – claiming to represent Him – – claiming even to be the Messiah, the Chosen or Anointed one… and they will be so convincing that they will mislead many.
Disciples detect and avoid deception; and the primary way they do that is by hanging on to every word of Jesus Christ and submitting to His will and way. The best way to detect deceivers or false Messiahs is by being intimately acquainted with the True One or the true Messiah – the risen Jesus Christ.
His second concern is that we disciples avoid and resist fear. The things that are coming will make even the most macho men tremble at the knees; but disciples are expected to be full of faith and absent of fear – because we know our God is sovereign and in total control ; and because we have learned that fear suffocates faith and prevents useability. Look at vs. 6-8
As the end of this age draws near, Jesus says there will be “wars, rumors of wars, conflicts between nations and kingdoms, famines and earthquakes”. These things alert us to the fact that the end is drawing near; but they are not the end – – Jesus likens them to the birth pangs that a pregnant mother experiences before her baby is ready to be born. These birth pangs help us know the birth is coming.
Evidently these things or events are going to be so intense and perhaps so frequent that the natural response is going to be fear. Disciples are expected to resist this paralyzing fear.
Have you noticed as we have walked through the first 23 chapters of Matthew how often Jesus dealt with this issue of fear with His disciples? Remember the time when Jesus and His disciples got into a boat on the Sea of Galilee after a long day and evening of ministry, and Jesus soon fell asleep? While He was sleeping a great storm rose up on the sea, and the disciples were convinced they were goners. They woke Him up in a dread panic, and Jesus rebuked them for their fear and lack of faith, and then He rebuked the storm, immediately after which the sea was perfectly calm.
What I found especially instructive as I traced this theme was how forcefully Jesus dealt with it with the 12 – right before He sent them out on their first ministry excursion. You see this in ch. 10 – – first in vs. 26 where Jesus said, “Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” The “them” refers to Jesus’s detractors or critics or enemies, which would eventually become the disciples’ detractors, critics and enemies. His promise to His disciples is whatever it looks like these enemies of the faith are getting by with – – you can know with certainty their wickedness will eventually be found out and dealt with by our just and holy God.
Then in vs. 28, He commanded – re: these same men or enemies, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul, but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” After speaking to them about their inestimable worth to God, in vs. 31 He commanded, “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” Finally in ch. 14:26 after walking towards them late at night on the water while they were in the boat battling another storm, the disciples freaked out – thinking Jesus was a ghost, and the text says, “they cried out in fear.” Jesus immediately spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Fear was huge with the disciples, and it very likely is a bigger problem with us than we care to admit, or may even be in touch with.
Now is the time to deal with it because:
#1. It is sin, and Jesus expects His disciples to overcome and resist it.
#2. It is our dealing effectively and forcefully with it now that enables us to deal effectively and forcefully with it in the end times when things really get bad, and when fear is rife among our fellow citizens. Fear is a great robber of useability and fruitfulness; because when we are afraid we are self consumed. But when we learn to overcome and resist fear; then we can be His instruments to help those who are mired in it.
The only real cure for the sin of fear is getting our radar fixed on the real Jesus, who is way bigger than any storm, crisis, or enemy could ever be.
So now that we’ve conquered this fear problem, let’s talk about our enemies some more. Jesus says the day will come when these guys (and I quote from vs. 9) “will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” vs. 9 starts with the word “Then” which would seem to say that this intense persecution will come after the birth pangs He has just talked about in the prior verses.
One question that arises here is who is the “you”? Is this just aimed at Jesus’s 12 disciples? Well it would seem that while it might include those of us in later generations, it certainly did include them since we know most of them died fairly brutal deaths at the hands of their enemies. Now when I say we know this, the only deaths of the original twelve recorded in scripture is the martyrdom of James and the suicide of Judas. For the rest we rely on tradition and non Biblical historians from the first few centuries.
When Jesus says “they will deliver you to tribulation” He is not referring to the 3 and a half – or 7 yr. period that many refer to as the Tribulation. Tribulation in this passage refers instead to the suffering each of these disciples will endure. For those of us living in America, vs 9 is a little hard to conceive. For those living in the Sudan, China, North Korea, India and many other places on the earth, this passage has been fulfilled over and over.
When Jesus says that these people “will be hated by all nations” it is very likely that this is because His disciples will go the nations with the gospel of Christ. Or it could be that when Jesus says “you will be hated by all nations” He is referring more to the church as a collective people or whole that stands up for righteousness – rather than individual believers.
Could this kind of intense persecution culminating in murder happen here in the United States? Well it certainly is not out of the realm of possibility. A lot of it depends on how this whole same sex marriage debate or agenda carries out; and it will most likely be that arena out of which such persecution will eventually come.
Perhaps you are aware of the fact that Bristol Palin – daughter of Governor Sarah Palin – wrote in her blog a response to President Obama’s confession of his feeling that homosexuals should be able to marry? Her comments were very reasonable, respectful and frankly very insightful. But oh the hate and venom that she incurred for daring to exercise her right of free speech. Some in their responses said she should have been aborted. Some wished the whole Palin family would die. Pretty awful stuff from folk who probably are the same folk crying out for tolerance and peaceful co-existence.
The key is – the “then” at the start of vs. 9 seems to be saying that the closer we get to the return of Christ – the worse this persecution will get. And because of the growing intensity of persecution on those who dare proclaim the good news of Christ and His kingdom, vs. 10 tells us that “many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.” In other words many folk whom we thought were Christians, and who sat in pews or chairs in Christian congregations – – when the going gets tough – will be found going to the other side to join the haters and persecutors. Will these folk have been true born again Christians? I doubt it. More likely tares among the wheat.
One of the developments that will cause them to fall away is that of the rise of false prophets and their influence. Jesus prophesies as seen in vs. 11, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.” And included in the “many” will be some who used to be part of the church – – or they at least attended Christian worship gatherings or services. Again it appears that this will increase as the end draws near. And again the best way to avoid being deceived by false prophets is to follow the true prophet Jesus and those who are truly following and speaking for Him, and striving to obey His every word.
What will lead to this rise of false prophets and so many following them? Well one thing will be the increase of lawlessness and rebellion, which opens us up to deception. Look at vs. 12: “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” Lawlessness is the state of a person’s heart that causes him or her to think they are above the law. “Speeding laws are for someone else. I’ll drive like I want to thank you! Tax laws are for someone else. Our government isn’t worthy of my taxes anyway. “Policies and procedures in the company I work for are unreasonable, and thus I don’t need to abide by them. “The Constitution that I swore to uphold when I was sworn into office is old and outdated; and besides we have evolved in our wisdom and understanding since then, and besides I know best and I have an agenda and I am a member of Congress or I am the President and I’m not going to be bound by some enshrined ancient document;
When I was sharing with Jim Hamann in our phone call on Wednesday that I had been humiliated by pastor dan woodworth on the golf course on Monday, he told me of how he used to play golf with some pastors in Seattle many years ago, and he was shocked at how they cheated on their scores. The Bible is great for preaching and getting my congregants in line with my agenda; but I’m not bound by this outdated book – written by men – – I’ll pay attention to the parts that are convenient and that help me get where I want to get; but don’t tell me I have to abide by every word; we have evolved since this book was written and our culture and society is vastly different now; and besides my wife criticizes me and complains about my long hours and neglecting our children; and this lady I have been counseling seems to understand the difficulty of my job and we are more compatible; and God knows I have a right to be happy…..Lawlessness can be quite subtle – especially when we first start flirting with it.
Lawlessness is the breeding ground for false prophets and teachers to arise from. Somewhere along the line they found God’s word to be too restricting; His standard too high; and they discovered that there are plenty of people out there that are looking for someone that will enable them to keep a religious feel, and stay in the religious world – – without having to change their lifestyle and give up their hidden sins. James speaks to this danger, when he says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
It is in this climate of intense persecution and rampant rebellion and lawlessness and deception that true believers are expected to endure and overcome. Look at vs. 13, “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” You say that sounds like we are saved by works? No, we are saved by grace through faith, but if that faith is genuine – it will result in the desire to please God no matter what the cost. Well does this mean that believers will endure the tribulation? Well so far in this passage there has been no talk of a distinct period called the tribulation. But again in some nations like China and North Korea and the Sudan – – every day for true believers is full of tribulation. And Jesus seems to expect that there will be believers who will be expected to endure all of this tribulation and difficulty and persecution leading right up until the end, since He says, “… the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” You say, well maybe that refers to the end of his life. Well that’s possible. But this paragraph ends with Jesus prophesying in vs. 14 that “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then THE END will come.” I would think the end in vs. 13 is the same end in vs. 14.
Some say this whole passage refers to the believers in Jesus’s day. And while of course it related to them, I would question whether vs. 14 had been fulfilled in that period of time. And obviously the end vs. 13 and vs. 14 speak of has not yet come.
Some say that the awful things spoken of in this passage speak of a distinct seven year tribulation, and that believers will be raptured before it takes place. Well that’s possible. But even if that happens – some unbelievers will become believers during the tribulation and this will have great relevance to them. But as one of my local pastor friends said to me this last week re: his take on eschatology, “We should be ready as if we will be raptured at any moment, but be prepared to live through the tribulation in case it doesn’t work out that way.”
So to help in our preparation – here are the four things Jesus expects from us from this passage that we can all strive for as long as we are on this earth:
1. We are not to be deceived or misled – aided by our carelessness and laziness in seeking after Jesus – the true Messiah.
2. We are not to fear all these things – knowing that our God is much bigger than the worst of it. Dealing ruthlessly with our fears now prepares us for dealing with them in the future.
3. We are to endure to the end; we are to be overcomers. We are to set our minds and hearts to finish well.
4. We are to do whatever we can to make sure that the good news of the wonderful kingdom of God is spread to the very ends of the earth. For this is the primary reason according to II Peter Jesus Christ has not yet returned.
COMMUNION – PHIL. 3:7-11