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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:The Beginning of the End
Text:Matthew 24:1-14 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve
Topic:End Times

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, some of you may be aware of our theme for the Summit Reformed Youth Conference this year. We realized that we had but one chance to capitalize on the year 2020, so we chose the theme: “20/20 Vision: Seeing God Clearly”.


Our speakers will be building on that theme, and they are speaking on a variety of topics like God’s Vision for worship, evangelism, Biblical manhood, a woman’s role in the church, and sexual orientation, etc. There’s one topic that was not chosen this year, but I hope we can address it at a future conference, and it is this: God’s Vision for the Future.


Without a doubt that topic commands our attention and interest this morning. That is true on a personal basis as we begin a New Year. We are filled with a sense of wonder and anticipation (maybe even some fear and trepidation) about what God has in store for us in 2020. What are God’s plans for us? What new challenges and trials will we experience in this New Year? 


(Just to address those fears a moment: thankfully, we serve a God who is always and ever faithful; a God who loves us and who promises to work all things for our good. God is our Ebenezer, like Samuel said of old: Thus far, by Thy help I have come. And because we belong to Christ, and our lives are already bound up with Him in glory – we are gloriously chained and fettered to Christ --we have no need to be worried or concerned about what tomorrow holds).    


But beyond that – as it relates more specifically to the passage we just read -- we are filled with a sense of wonder and anticipation at God’s vision for the future of this world -- for the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. As God’s people, as we celebrate the passing of the Old Year and the beginning of the New Year we should be looking at the bigger picture. We’re not just casually observing the passing of the Hours, and Days and Years and Ages.


No. We are actually watching. We are actually waiting. You see, the passage of time from one year to the next, bring us closer to that moment, to that Day, to the hour we are all looking forward to – the hour of our Lord’s return. And as Jesus says in the next chapter, Matthew 25, we are to keep watch, to stay alert, for the coming of the Bridegroom.


God’s Vision for the Future has to do with his plans for His return --and all the events, all the signs, all that must happen leading up to that great and final moment of His return. And of all the resolutions you have already made or have yet to make for 2020, our #1 resolution should be this: that I am prepared for the return of my Lord and my King. That I am ready for His coming.


It is with that thought in mind that I decided to focus on Matthew 24 this morning. Here, Jesus is reaching the end of his time on earth. It is only a matter of days before His arrest, trial crucifixion and death and resurrection. So before he departs, he speaks to his disciples about the future. And just as we talked about a moment ago – Jesus has two futures in view in this passage.


Some verses in this chapter he addresses to the near future – to what would happen in their own lifetime: the fall of Jerusalem, and the desecration and destruction (vs 15 the abomination that causes desolation) of the temple. But Jesus also speaks about the distant future. Certain verses in this chapter address the end of the world and Christ’s second coming – and what signs will accompany or signal the coming of the end of the age (verses 30-31 clearly speaks to this as does the 3 parables in chapter 25).


So on this New Year’s Day we’re going to look at this passage together so we ourselves can be informed about God’s Vision for the Future and He ready for Christ’s return. Here Jesus Prepares His Disciples for the Coming of the End Times.    

  1. He Gives them a Proper View of the Temple
  2. He Calls them to Patiently Endure.


He Gives them a Proper View of the Temple

Matthew 23 records a prolonged confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus pronounced upon them 7 woes for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness; for being blind guides and for putting needless burdens on the backs of His people. It ends with Christ’s moving words of lament over the stubborn unbelief and hardheartedness of Jerusalem.  

Chapter 24 begins with Jesus and his disciples exiting the temple area. And as they do, they are neat or on the Mount of Olives which has a commanding view of the entire temple complex (towering over 200 feet over Mt. Zion, the temple Mount. I know in Calgary there are certain vantage points or scenic outlooks that give you a great view of the city (Crescent Hills perhaps?).


As they leave, the disciples must have been gazing at the temple’s 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 at the very spectacle of it all.


And what a spectacle it was. The temple was something to behold. Now remember, the temple that was built in Solomon’s day had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Then in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the temple was rebuilt, but it was only a shadow of its former glory.


The temple that stood in Jerusalem in Jesus day was built by King Herod himself in an attempt to appease the Jews and ensure that they live in peace with the Roman government. Historians described it as a mountain of white marble decorated with gold.


John Calvin wrote about the construction of the temple also, noting that King Herod employed 10,000 workmen on it for 8 consecutive years. Overall, the construction of the temple itself took more than 50 years to complete. The stones used in the construction of the temple were massive. 


The Jewish historian Josephus estimates the stones to be 37 ft. long, 12 ft. high, and 18 ft. wide.  That’s 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. 


So here are these simple fishermen from Galilee who (like any of us) are awed by what they see. Teacher, look at these stones!  How massive!  How amazing and beautiful this place is! What a sight to behold. But Jesus says something that is truly shocking and unbelievable. He said, Do you see these things…I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another.  Every one will be thrown down. 


Quite obviously Jesus has their full attention. And as they were sitting on the Mt. of Olives, we can just imagine them just sitting together and looking out over the city, the disciples start asking questions. Verse 3: 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 pause right there and draw attention to the fact that the disciples seem to be asking two different or separate questions (one about the timing of the destruction of the temple, and another about the signs of the end of the age). Granted, the disciples are equating these two events. They must have thought that the destruction of the temple would coincide with the end of the age.  


But Jesus knows better. Jesus has the proper vision of the future, and now he must correct the vision of his disciples. We know something of the disciple’s vision for the future based on Acts 1. After Christ’s resurrection and immediately before his ascension the disciples ask Jesus Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?


The disciples 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 endure unto all eternity.


And the problem is, they seem to have confused (or maybe mixed is a better word) the earthly with the heavenly; the physical with the spiritual; and the Old Covenant and all that belongs to it by way of the temple and the sacrifices, with the New Covenant and all that which comes through Christ (who renders the temple obsolete). To summarize, they have mixed the temporal, that which belongs to this world, that is passing away and that which MUST pass away, with the permanent and the eternal and that which excels and surpasses and renders obsolete.


And this is what accounts for their response to Jesus. And it’s easy to see what they thought this way. To them, the temple was a permanent fixture in the Jerusalem landscape. It was a massive and mighty building; it was something of a grand monument to their faith. The temple gave the impression of durability and strength and almost a certain timelessness and eternity. 


And any suggestion that this mighty temple would be destroyed, that its massive stones could be thrown down like children’s building blocks was not only unthinkable and absurd, but it suggested to them that if that did happen – then surely it must be the end of the world. For the Jews, the temple and Jerusalem were their religious headquarters. The temple was the place of worship and sacrifice. The temple signified the presence of God and access to God.


So again, if the temple is destroyed then that must signal the end of the world – because they could not envision a world without the temple. But you see, the disciples’ problem was their vision. They saw their lives, their future only from an earthly perspective. They failed to consider the future from God’s perspective.  They did not realize that the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem was all part of God’s plan of redemption. 


They couldn’t yet see that the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross, His one time sacrifice for sins, would make the temple and the priesthood obsolete and unnecessary. They couldn’t 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, and that Christ Himself is the temple, and heaven is His sanctuary.


It leads us to ask ourselves today: what things have we confused or mixed or exchanged with the excellency and surpassing greatness and glory and permanence and righteousness of Jesus Christ? What monuments or fixtures have we erected or do we cling to in our lives that gives us a sense of lasting security and permanence and confidence? Is it our money? Is our confidence in our financial portfolio? If the financial market was to crumble to the ground, would we lose all hope? Would we have any more reason to live?


And when it comes to worship, and to what we equate with true religion, what do cling to, what monuments have we erected as permanent fixtures in our worship or in our Christian lives that actually serve to push Christ aside or at least cloud our view of Him? Every church and every Christian has blind spots. We are no exception.


In short, Christ must be the Be All and the End All of our lives and our worship. He must be kept at the front and center of everything. He is the Alpha and the Omega the beginning and the end. Christ and His Kingdom and all who belong to Christ will endure and everything else is temporary and will pass away. So let go of the things of this world, and cling to Christ alone.      


2. He Calls them to Patiently Endure

Secondly, Jesus Calls them to patiently endure. Here we begin to look specifically at the signs of the times which Jesus mentions starting in verses 4-14. Again, we have to remember that Jesus was addressing (and preparing them) for two events. The destruction of Jerusalem which would happen very soon – in another 35 years or so, and then the end of the age/world.   


In verse 4, Jesus issues a warning saying: watch out that no one deceives you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ’ and will deceive many.  Notice that Jesus says ‘many’ will come. This connects with I John 2.18 where 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.


II Thessalonians 2:3 speaks of the antichrist and it describes him as a man of lawlessness who opposes God and God’s 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 God’s 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 God’s 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. The power of evil (the power of Satan to deceive and to turn people against Christ and His church) is pervasive.  (Example: If you have ever read any of Calvin’s Commentaries then you know that John Calvin spoke openly against 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; and in saying that MANY antichrists would come, Jesus is also alerting them to the fact that the spirit of the antichrist will contend with the church to the very end of time.


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 end will come with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., for there will be many more wars and rumors of wars. Nations and empires will rise and fall. Even mighty would fall (which may have been just as hard to envision as the destruction of the temple).


W.W. I was dubbed “The war to end all wars”, but within 20 years of the end of WW I the nations of the world were engaged in yet another World War. 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/my own lifetime we have witnessed killer earthquakes in Los Angeles, Mexico City, in Turkey, in China, in Japan. Think of the killer Tsunamis which strike without warning killing tens and even hundreds of thousands.


Besides that, there is disease and pestilence and famine that kill millions every year. It is a sad and somber chore to chart the world’s natural disasters and to keep track of the millions who died over the decades and generations. Yet what does Jesus say? 


Jesus says to His waiting church: be patient.  Don’t panic.  Don’t lost perspective.  Don’t fall prey to those who say the end is here. Don’t 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 Christ’s return!  


I recall the error of Harold Camping, the pastor who predicted Christ’s return in 1994. He made many such false predictions before his own death and led many astray. But Jesus says, don’t 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, there’s more to come.  There’s 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 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 by Emperor Nero; and 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 (in our established churches) we see a great apostasy, a falling away of many within the church who simply have lost sight of Christ and lost interest in Christ. The numbers of young adults and young people leaving the church is staggering, and now we are told that a new generation is being raised that are called “nones” that want nothing at all to do with organized religion.


Yet in light of all this, we’re not called to panic or despair. Rather, Christ calls us to wait patiently, to endure these evil days with courage, faith and vigilance – but also to keep on working. To keep on doing what we’re called to do. 


Look at verse 14. Jesus says 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?  The disciples are ready to welcome in Christ’s kingdom right then and there. But Jesus says – there’s much work to do first. (Gospel spread from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the end of the earth!!  And that work carries on to this very day.  

In the midst of wars and rumors of war, in the face of severe hardship and devastation and even persecution God’s people we see that God has a purpose for it all. Christ is at work in all of this. Just as he had a purpose in the destruction of the earthly temple so that the Jews would not look to the temple and its sacrifices as a form of earthly security – so that they would look to HIM and to His righteousness and to His heavenly priesthood, so too the Lord will strip away every monument and institution and He will remove every creature comfort we know all so that we would turn to Jesus Christ and find in Him all that we need for this life and the next! 


And so as Christ’s church we are to busy ourselves with the work God has given us knowing that the end will not come until Christ’s work is finished. The Gospel must go out into the whole world -- so that the nations might know that Jesus Christ is Lord. And that work involves us and includes us on many levels as we support the ministry of the church, and the work of missionaries and church planters, and as we ourselves are used by God to bring others to Christ.


That is how we prepare for the end. This is what God’s vision for the future, for us (the church) in 2020. And so as we begin this New Year, let us do so with confidence and assurance, with faith and boldness, and let us pray the same prayer that the church has uttered for all the ages, “Come Lord Jesus!  Come quickly. 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 2020, Pastor Keith Davis

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