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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
 www.bethelurc.org
 
Preached At:Lynwood United Reformed Church
 Lynwood, IL
 www.lynwoodurc.org
 
Title:The Beginning of the End
Text:Matthew 24:1-14 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:End Times
 
Preached:2005-07-03
Added:2005-09-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, it seems that throughout history, no matter how primitive or sophisticated a society may be, man has always possessed an intense desire to look into the future, to inquire as to what the future holds for him.

For that reason, almost every society has had its share of seers and mediums and fortune tellers. Just think of Israel. Even though Godí s law forbade Israel to consult mediums and soothsayers and witches, we find numerous references to Israelís kings consulting mediums and false prophets to find out what might happen in the future (i.e. king Saul and witch of Endor).

Or think of the French philosopher Nostradamus, who in 1555 published a book called Centuries. The book was basically a collection of prophecies, of events that he predicted would take place in the future. To this very day, there are so called ďexpertsĒ who continue trace the predictions of Nostradamus through history, trying to point out which of his prophecies have already come true, and which ones have yet to come to fruition.

In our own age, there are billions of people who are obsessed and infatuated with a desire to know their future. We can ride down Route 30 and find advertisements for palm reading and tarot cards. Or just think of the fact that almost every major newspaper publishes a daily horoscope (people predict the future based on the positioning of the moon and stars).

Every morning, just like clockwork, millions of Americans pour a cup of coffee, pick up their newspaper, and read what some stranger has to say about their future. As silly as that may sound to us, the scary thing is, people actually believe what is written (follow it religiously).

Well beloved, when it comes to manís intense interest for the future, Godís people are no exception to the rule. In fact, as Christians we look to the future perhaps more than anyone else. But the difference is this: we donít consult mediums or fortune tellers to tell us what the future holds. No. We consult the Word of our God, for God is the only One who knows the future.

And in Godís Word, we find scores of passages (both Old and New Testament) which reveal facts about our future. Those passages donít reveal dates and times, but as we read today, they do reveal to us signs of the times, signs which indicate the nearness of Christís coming.

That is what we find in Matthew 24. Jesus is nearing the end of his earthly ministry, so during the final days before His crucifixion and death, Jesus turns his discipleís attention to the future: to the near futureóthe coming destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem; but Jesus also speaks about the distant futureóabout the signs that will accompany the end of the age and His second coming. As you can see, thereís a lot for us to consider in this chapter, but for our purposes this evening, weíre only going to consider vv. 1-14. Here Jesus Teaches His Disciples about the Nearness of the End. We consider Jesusí teachingÖ

  1. As a Form of Loving Correction;
  2. As a Call to Patient Endurance.

1) As a Form of Loving Correction;

This chapter begins with Jesus and several of His disciples exiting the temple area. Jesus has just ended a prolonged confrontation with the religious leaders (Pharisees and teachers of the law). He has pronounced upon them 7 woes for their hypocrisy and self-righteous ways.

This is the final time that Jesus will visit the earthly temple. As they leave, the disciples call attention to the templeís impressive structure and appearance. In fact, Mark gives us a more detailed version of what was said (Mark 13:1). As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, Look! Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings! Simply put, the disciples were awed by the very spectacle of it.

Like visiting the Sears tower, no matter how many times you lay eyes on it, youíre awed by what you see. The temple was something to behold. Now, the temple that stood in Jerusalem in Jesus day was not the same as was built by Solomon. Solomonís temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the temple was rebuilt, but it was only a shadow of its former glory and beauty.

The temple in Jesus day was built by none other than King Herod himself. The Roman government was very liberal in that they allowed and even encouraged the various people to worship their own gods as well as Caesar (it was in the best interest of the Empire--peace).

From eye witness descriptions of that day, we know that Herodís work of reconstructing Jerusalem and the temple was a great success. A Roman historian wrote, he who has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never seen a desirable city in his life. He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life. It has even been described as a mountain of white marble, decorated with gold.

As to its construction, John Calvin wrote that the great expense and the incredible grandeur of this newly re-furbished temple can be attested to by the fact that at one point, King Herod employed 10,000 workmen on it for 8 consecutive years. The overall construction of the temple itself took more then 50 years.

As the disciples noted, the stones used in the construction of the temple were massive. Josephus estimates the stones to be 37 ft. long, 12 ft. high, and 18 ft. wide. Thatís nearly the same dimensions as a railroad car or semi-truck trailer. Imagine boys and girls, huge hunks of marble measuring that large and stacked one on top of another--making the temple buildings not only a wonder to behold, but also an engineering marvel.

These simple fishermen from Galilee were awed by the sight of it all--Teacher, look at these stones! How massive! How beautiful this place is! What a sight to behold. Yet, what Jesus was about to say would drop their jaws even further. Jesus saw right past all the expert masonry work and the fancy gold decorations, and He said, Do you see these thingsÖI tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another. Every one will be thrown down.

This revelation literally left the disciples speechless. The idea of the temple being destroyed was mind boggling. We donít hear a peep from them until they arrive at the Mt. of Olives. (It was located just a short distance east of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley. The interesting thing is that the Mt. of Olives was 200 feet higher in elevation than Mt. Zion, the temple mount).

So as Jesus and His disciples gathered there, perhaps as the sun was setting on the city, they held a commanding view of the temple--Mark 13.3 says that the temple was directly opposite their location. It was then that the disciples inquired further as to what Jesus meant.

Look at Matthew 24:3. They ask, When will this happen (the destruction of the temple), and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age. I want to call your attention to the fact that two very different questions are raised by the disciples. One question refers to the destruction of the temple, the other about the Lordís return.

True, the disciples didnít think that these two questions were all that differentóthey believed both events would coincide (one after the other). But Jesus knows better. And beloved, this is the key to understanding this chapter. Certain things Jesus says specifically relate to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. (vs. 34óI tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened).

But other parts of Jesusí answer address the distant future, things that must happen before the end of the age and Christís second coming. The trouble is, as we read through this lengthy answer, itís not always easy to tell which question Jesus is answering at which time. Jesus is speaking in the same manner and style as the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.

With one breath Jesus prophesies about an event that would take place 30 years later; and in the very next breath He may be prophesying about an event that would take place 3000 years later. So this demands that we study this chapter very closely.

But before we get into the specific prophesies, I want to focus your attention on the disciples themselves, particularly on their expectations for the future, on their expectations for the future coming of Christís Kingdom. You may recall that following Jesus resurrection from the dead, and right after Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon them in power, the disciples asked Jesus Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?

The discipleís assumed that the end of the age was at hand and that now was the time for all the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Zechariah and Daniel would be fulfilled; the Messiah would establish His eternal kingdom, the government would be upon his shoulders, the Spirit of the Lord would rest upon Him, and His kingdom would not be left for another people, but it will endure unto all eternity.

That is the same false assumption that lies behind the discipleís question in Matt. 24:3. When they hear what Jesus said about the destruction of the temple, they wrongly assumed that this marked the end of the age and the coming of Christís kingdom.

But, do you see why they might make this false assumption, beloved? The temple was a permanent fixture in the Jerusalem landscape. It was massive and mighty. It gave the perception of durability and strength. Any suggestion that this mighty temple would be destroyed, that its massive stones would be thrown down, would surely mean that the very earth was shaken at its foundations! In their minds, as the temple goes, so goes the rest of the world.

Also realize that for a Jew, the temple and Jerusalem were the religious headquarters. The temple was the place of sacrifice. The temple signified access to God. So again, any suggestion that their world could go on for any length of time without the institution of the temple was simply unheard of.

But you see, the disciplesí problem was that they saw their lives, their future only from an earthly perspective. They failed to consider the future from Godís perspective. They did not realize that the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem was all part of Godís plan of redemption.

They couldnít see that the shedding of Christís blood on the cross, His one time sacrifice for sins, would make the temple obsolete (turn it into a museum!). They couldnít see that the destruction of the temple would usher in a new age, the age of the new and better Covenant, under the administration of the risen and exalted Christ, the believerís heart was Godís temple.

You know, in a way, the discipleís false assumptions about the destruction of the temple are really not all that different than our own false assumptions about the institutions we revere in our own day and age. Congregation, I can still recall the headline of one British newspaper on September 12, 2001, one day after the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed.

It stated: Is this the end of the world? Granted, that headline was a play on words--it truly was the end of the World Trade Center buildings. But there was more to that headline than mere word play. That headline accurately portrayed the panic that swept over the world.

Citizens in our country, and people all over the world, held a common perception of our nation as a confident, untouchable and indestructible super power. But on that fateful morning, America was anything but indestructible. In those dark hours of terror and confusion, people in NYC, in Chicago, and in rural towns all over America, and people all over the world, were wondering the same thing--is this the beginning of end? (At the very least, economic disaster).

So you see, we also tend to panic. We also make false assumptions. Itís easy to attach our earthly lives (earthly existence) to earthly institutions, like our finances, or creature comforts, or even our family and loved ones, so that we cannot conceive of living life without them. We get to the point where we might even refuse to live life without them (as if itís the end!).

But the Lord, by His Word and Spirit, lovingly corrects our wrong assumptions. He calls us to live our earthly lives from a heavenly perspective, so that when something happens that shakes our world (whether in the world or on a personal level) when trustworthy institutions disappear or when things/people we have grown to rely upon are taken from us, God wants us to look to Him and trust that He will provide. He is in charge.

We donít panic or fret, but we calmly ask ourselves what is Christ trying to accomplish here? How is Christ building His church? How is Christ strengthening me through this event? What role does God have for me in this plan? Thatís the perspective we need when we face trials that shake us and threaten all that is precious to us. We have to see everything in relationship to Christ and His Kingdom.

2) As a Call to Patient Endurance.

Jesus teaches His Disciples about the Beginning of the End. His teaching was first of all a form of loving correction. But secondly, this teaching is a call to patient endurance. Here we begin to look specifically at the signs of the times which Jesus mentions starting in verses 4-14.

The fact that this is indeed a call to patient endurance is evident from the way that Jesus speaks of the coming of the end of the age. Itís quite clear that the end of the age will not come as swiftly as the disciples had thought. The end of the age would be preceded by many things, by many signs which had to happen first.

In verse 4, Jesus begins by issuing a warning, telling them to watch out that no one deceives you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ĎI am the Christí and will deceive many. Notice that Jesus says Ďmanyí will come.

That does not mean that many will come all at once! No. False teachers will come along gradually, over the years, over generations, over centuries. This is how we understand I John 2.18. The Apostle John writes, This is the last hour, and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come! This is how we know it is the last hour.

The antichrist that is described in II Thessalonians 2:3 is called a man of lawlessness who opposes God and Godís law, and sets himself up as God (i.e. sets his own standard of righteousness for his followers). So we can consider anyone in any age who teaches or preaches a false gospel, or who leads Godís people astray, we can consider them to be an antichrist.

Likewise, we can consider any philosophy, any political power, any teaching, any civil laws, any religious beliefs that run counter to the truth of Godís Word to be a product of the spirit of the antichrist. World and church history has shown that every generation has its share of antichrists, and the antichristian spirit is at work in the politics, business practices, philosophies, education system, in the world religions of every age.

If you have ever read even a portion out of Calvinís Commentaries then you know that John Calvin tirelessly attacked the Pope and the office of the Pope, calling him the antichrist because the Pope has set himself up as God, as Christ, on earth.

So Jesus warns his disciples so they would not be deceived; but in saying that MANY antichrists would come, Jesus also alerts them to the fact that the antichrists will be with the church to the very end. We must not think that Christ is coming back tomorrow, simply because we see the presence of the antichrist in the world around us.

A second reference that Jesus makes about the coming of the end is this: There will be wars and rumors of wars. Again, that is a clear reference to the passing of time. The disciples and the church must not think that the world will end with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., for there will be many ore wars and rumors of wars. History itself records the continual rise and fall of empires, the tossing of the sea, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom (even Rome!).

In his commentary on this passage, William Hendriksen writes that one author counted no less than 300 wars in Europe over that last 300 years. And, considering the fact that WW I was dubbed ďThe war to end all warsĒ, itís obvious that manís word isnít nearly as reliable as Godís Word. Jesus said, such things must happen, but the end is still to come!

Not only will there be wars, but there will be famines, earthquakes, pestilence. In our generation alone we have heard of killer earthquakes in this country and abroad (in Los Angeles, in Mexico City, in Turkey, in China, in Japan). Think of the killer Tsunami which struck the lands around the Indian Ocean this past December. Think of the pestilence and disease and famine that kill millions every year.

What a somber chore it is to chart and catalogue the worldís natural disasters and to keep track of the billions of people who have died over the centuries from disease and pestilence and plague and famine. The numbers are staggering, the suffering is far too great to even begin to imagine. Yet what does Jesus say?

Jesus says to His church in waiting, be patient. Donít panic. Donít lost perspective. Donít fall prey to those who say the end is here. Donít listen to the false prophets and cult leaders who twist the Scriptures, who claim to receive secret visions, who say that they have studied the signs of the times and can determine the day and the hour of Christís return!

Think of those Christians who were fooled into following Harold Camping, the pastor who predicted Christís return in 1994, and now believes that the church age is ended. Jesus says, donít fall for deceptions like that because (vs. 8) all these are the beginnings of birth pains (or as some commentators put it: these are but the beginnings of sorrows). In other words, thereís more to come. Thereís more to endure, more hardship for the world and for the church.

The signs of the times include not only false teachers, warring nations, and natural disasters, but also widespread persecution of the church hatred by the world, a great apostasy and falling away within the church. The church witnessed such signs in the New Testament church under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Nero, in the Middle Ages and Protestant Reformation (Spanish inquisition), and even in our own day, statistics tell us that more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than all previous centuries combined. And in our own generation we see a great apostasy, a falling away of many who have nothing more than a nominal faith at best.

But as Jesus said, all this is the beginning of the end of the age. Granted our generation is closer to the end of the age than were the disciples in Jesusí day, or the people in Paulís day or the church in Calvinís day, but we must not think therefore that our age has seen more evil than any other, or because of the horrible events in the news that Christ must be coming back tomorrow or next year, or in 5 years.

Rather, weíre called by Christ to wait patiently, to wait obediently. We must endure the passing of the days with great vigilance, with wise discretion, knowing that creation itself has been groaning as in the pains of child birth right up to this present age, as it eagerly awaits the day of Christís return and the sons of God to be revealed.

But keep this in mind, beloved. Letís remember that while our Lord foretells some very chilling news for our world and for His church, while we ourselves daily witness the horrors of war and terrorism and persecutions and natural disasters, and deadly pestilence, it is not all doom and gloom beloved!

Again, our Lord calls us to keep our perspective, to keep our eyes on what our Lord is doing in and through all of these events and signs. We have to keep our eyes fixed on what is happening to Godís kingdom during this time? Look at verse 14.

Christ declares and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come! Do you see how comforting that is? Again, Jesusí answer does not meet with the expectations of the disciples. Theyíre ready to welcome in Christís kingdom right then and there. But Jesus has much work for them to do first, and that work carries on to this day!

In the midst of wars and rumors of war, in the face of severe hardship and devastation and even persecution Godís people do not panic, we do not lose site, we do not take our eyes off what Christ is doing in all of this for the sake of His Church and kingdom. The Lord uses the wars and afflictions and devastations so that men everywhere would bow their knee to Him.

So, throughout the world, the Gospel continues to be preached, and it will be preached until the very end of the age. But even though the end of the age is drawing near, we need not fear, we need not panic, we need stand outside on a hilltop and stare at the heavens thinking that today is the day. And we must not look around us at our own mighty nation or other nations and think that if it falls, then the Lord is sure to come back.

Rather, we are to busy ourselves with the work of the church, being confident, that the end will not come until Christís work is finished. The Gospel must go out to the whole world--to the starving multitudes in third world countries, to the embattled nations, to nations in ruins, devastated by natural disasters. These are events designed to turn people to Christ, or to seal their stubborn hearts once and for all.

Beloved, none of us should fear the end of the world, or be surprised by what happens in these final days. Rather, we should be longing for it, we should prepare ourselves for it by seeing all of life from a spiritual perspective. And, as we toil here on earth, we ought to be looking forward to the new heavens and the new earth which far surpass this fallen earth and temple in beauty and majesty!

We ought to be anticipating the new Jerusalem, whose walls are made of jasper, whose streets are paved with gold, and in which city there is no temple because (as Rev. 21 says) the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple.

That is the city that awaits us, beloved. That is the city in which our Savior Himself lives and dwells, and displays His glory for all to see. Thereís nothing on this earth that can compare with the beauty and glory of that city. So that is where our eyes must be fixed, that is the city upon which our hearts must be set. It is from that glorious city that we await our Savior.

In the meantime, we are called to pray the same prayer that the church has uttered for all the ages, ďCome Lord Jesus! Come quicklyÖbut only when the signs have reached their fulfillment, only after your Gospel has been preached as a testimony to the whole world; only after our Lord Jesus Christ has made his enemies a footstool for his feet. Then the end will comeĒ. Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Pastor Keith Davis

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