Sunday, April 3, 2016

April 3, 2016

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC

IS THIS THE END?

Matthew 24:1-3

The first in a series of two.

 

Julie Rowe is a 42-year-old mother of three.  When she was 30, she got very sick and nearly died.  While hovering in that zone between life and death, she had some vivid visions.  She has now written three books about what she saw and what it means for us today.

The first of these books, A Greater Tomorrow tells of how she was shown the earth’s past, present, and future.  Her second book, The Time is Now is about what’s going to happen in the very near future and how we can get ready.  Earlier this year, she released her third book, From Tragedy to Destiny.  In it she reveals that she met some of our nation’s founding fathers in that near death experience, and that they are worried about us.  That part I can believe.

Last September Julie Rowe was in the news.  When flash floods hit southern Utah and killed 20, some said Julie Rowe had predicted them.  And later that same month, when we had that rare combination of a lunar eclipse at the very time that the moon was unusually close to earth, some of Julie Rowe’s readers concluded that it was going to be the end of the world.

It wasn’t.  But the sales of emergency preparedness supplies went through the roof, especially in Utah.  And The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints got involved.  Because you see, Julie Rowe is a devout Mormon.  Her books are written from a decidedly LDS perspective.  But her church issued a disclaimer that her opinions and conclusions do not reflect church teachings.  And one way you can know that for sure is that you will not find anything written by Julie Rowe at Deseret Books.

I don’t need to tell you that there is a lot of speculation about end times these days.  I saw a poll result.  Yes, they are still doing public opinion polls on subjects other than who you don’t want to be president.  This one was measuring opinions on the subject of end times.  67% of white evangelical Christians are saying that the end of

the world is very near.  And more surprisingly, 44% of all Americans are saying the same thing.

If you’ve lived a few years, you know this is nothing new.  I preached a sermon in 1986 with the title:  “Jesus is Coming in 1981 . . . And Other Problems in Interpreting Biblical Prophecy”.  The truth is every generation since Jesus rose from the dead has believed that they were living in the end times.  If you read my April newsletter article and you got clear to the end, which is probably rare, you read that verse in Hebrews about encouraging each other and not neglecting to meet together, “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (10:25).  What “Day”?  The day Jesus is coming back. The author of Hebrews thought it was going to be soon.  Maybeyou do, too.  I know it’s on your mind.  It’s on mine.

So I thought we’d take two Sundays to look at what the Bible says on this subject.  This week we’re going to look at the 24th chapter of Matthew.  Next week we will look at the Book of Revelation.

We just celebrated Easter, but we need to go back to the Tuesday after Palm Sunday for the scripture we read today.  Jesus had left the Temple in Jerusalem.  In Mark’s version of this same scripture, a disciple speaks up and says:   “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (13:1)  It was pretty wonderful.  It was pretty amazing.  Here is what we think the Temple looked like at that time.

 

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To give you a perspective on size, the main part of the Temple is six stories tall. Builders today are baffled by how they got all those huge stones in place.  It was an amazing feat of engineering.

The Temple was the place where Jews believed that heaven and earth met.  On Easter we talked about “up there” coming “down here”.  The Jews believed the Temple was the actual, physical place where that happened.  God lived in that Temple.  It was an awesome place and a reminder to the Jews that they served an awesome God.

So on Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus walks out of that Temple and his disciples are looking back at it and admiring it.  That’s when Jesus says something shocking.  “Truly, I say to you, there will not be left one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2).   Then he sat on the Mount of Olives, which overlooks the Temple Mount and those disciples came to him privately and asked him to expand on that cryptic remark.  “When will this be [that is, when will the Temple be destroyed] and what will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age?” (24:3).  The rest of Matthew 24 is his answer.

Matthew 24 is sometimes called “The Little Apocalypse”.  This is to distinguish it from “The Big Apocalypse”, the Book of Revelation which we are going to be looking at next week.  The word “apocalypse” means to uncover something that is hidden.  It means to “lift the veil” so we can see what we couldn’t see before.  In the Bible, apocalyptic literature is intended to lift the veil so that we can see into the future.  Specifically, so that we can see what will happen in the end times.

Here’s the big question that divides followers of Jesus today:  Are these parts of the Bible written for us or for the people who lived back then?  In other words, as we go through Matthew 24 today and Revelation next week, are we to be looking for a code that applies to current events and near future events, or are we to understand these passages in light of what was happening and what was about to happen back then?

There was a series of books that came out a few years ago called “Left Behind”.  I read all 12 of them.  Once you start, it’s hard to stop.  These books represent the view of many Christians that the Bible predicts specific events in our day.  So Matthew 24 is kind of like a roadmap that shows us where we are headed and what is about to happen.

Even after reading 4,800 pages of the riveting adventures of Chloe and Buck and all the others, I remain unconvinced.  I have the utmost respect for those who see this differently, but I think we understand these apocalyptic scriptures best by going back

to the time in history when they were written.

So when Jesus said in Matthew 24 that not one stone of the Temple would be left upon another, could he have been talking about something about to happen soon, not something 2000 years away?  Well, as a matter of fact, the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.  The only stones left standing were the Western Wall that pilgrims still visit today.

It was terrible.  The Jews had revolted against the Romans in AD 66 and Rome moved in to teach them a lesson they would never forget.  Jews from all around the surrounding countryside came to Jerusalem where they thought they would be safe inside the walls of the city.  The Romans decided to wait them out.  It was the siege of Jerusalem.  Four years later with many of the Jews already dead and dying of starvation, the Romans moved in for the kill.  They destroyed the Temple.  And they slaughtered an estimated 1.1 million Jews.

The Book of Matthew was written shortly after this had taken place.  There’s no question that those who first read these words thought immediately of what had just happened in Jerusalem.

Let’s look at some of the other things Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:

  • False prophets.
  • Wars and rumors of war.
  • Famines.
  • Nation rising up against nation.
  • Earthquakes.
  • Christians tortured and put to death.

 

We see all these things happening in our world today.  But has there ever been a generation that did not see these things happening?  There is one verse here that seems to apply only to modern times.  “And the Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come” (24:14).  With first radio and the airplane and now the internet, the world is connected as never before.  Missionaries have been able now to go and preach the Gospel to isolated tribes unheard of before and totally cut off from the modern world.  The Bible has now been translated now into virtually every language on earth.  So does that mean this prophecy can only apply to us?

Maybe.  But wasn’t that what Paul thought he was doing?  He was travelling all over the known world, preaching the Gospel and planting churches.  We do know he expected Jesus to return in his lifetime.  He called it “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).  He was looking forward to it.  He could hardly wait.

Just to be clear, I do believe that Jesus is coming back.  Literally returning to this earth.  And I wonder if it might be soon.  I am open to the possibility that these Bible prophecies apply to our day as well as to the day in which they were written.  But there are three parts of Matthew 24 that I would highlight with a yellow marker if I were you.

The first is Matthew 24:36.  “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”  That’s pretty clear.  We don’t know when the end will come.  The Bible specifically tells us we cannot know.

Of course that doesn’t stop people from making predictions.  Did you know that latest predication for the end of the world is a week from Wednesday?  April 13, 2016.  So maybe you don’t need to worry about paying your taxes this year.  On second thought, I think you probably do.

Remember when Harold Camping predicted with such confidence that the world was ending on May 21, 2011.  He had billboards up announcing that event.  And then, after May 21, 2011,  his were taken down, and these went up.

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          That’s the first thing I want you to take away from Matthew 24.  And the second is found in the way it ends.  And the way it spills over into the next chapter, Matthew 25.  Matthew 24 ends with a parable and Matthew 25 consists of three parables.  They have one common theme.  Be ready.

First, we have the parable about the two servants.  In each case the servant is given charge over his master’s property while the  master is away.  We have the “faithful and wise servant” who is doing what he is supposed to be doing and we have the “wicked servant” who is treating his fellow servants in horrible ways because his master is delayed in returning.  Then the master returns, and it is bad news for this wicked servant.  It’s a parable about being ready at all times.

That’s the way chapter 24 ends and then we have chapter 25 which begins with the parable of the ten maidens waiting for the bridegroom.  Five are foolish and five are wise.  The foolish ones didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps, so when the bridegroom came later than expected and they were gone buying more oil, they missed their moment.  They weren’t ready.

Next the parable of the talents.  This one too has a master who has gone away and is coming back but we don’t know when.  One servant is given five talents, another two, another one.  A talent was a unit of money.  It was a lot of money.  While the master is away, the one with five uses it to make another five, the one with two uses it to make another two, and the one with one talent is afraid of losing it and buries it.  When the master finally returns, the ones who used what they had been given to the fullest advantage are the ones who are commended.  “Well done, good and faithful servant” (25:21).
So this parable tells us that being ready means having the faith to boldly use what God has entrusted to us and not just playing it safe out of fear.

There is one more parable.  The parable of the sheep and the goats.  It tells us that when Christ returns it will be like a shepherd who separates sheep from goats.  The goats will be dismissed and the sheep will be welcomed into the Kingdom.  And he will say to the sheep, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and in prison and you visited me.”  The sheep will say, “We don’t remember doing any of those things for you.”  And Jesus will say, “If you did it for the least of these, my brothers or sisters, you did it for me” (25:40).  So to be ready for Jesus is to be living like Jesus in the way we treat people, especially people in need.

The question I leave you with today is not the question posed in the sermon title.  “Is this the end?”  Frankly, I don’t know if it’s the end or not.  Jesus said we cannot know.  The question I leave you with is the question Jesus leaves you with.  “Are you ready?”  It’s the third place to get out you yellow marker and highlight your Bible.  Matthew 24:44.  And it’s one to spend time wrestling with in your prayers.  “Therefore you must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect”.

 

We want to be ready, Lord Jesus.  Ready when you come.  And since we have no idea if you are coming today or tomorrow or a hundred years from tomorrow, the only way to be ready when you come is to be ready now.  In this afterglow of Easter and the baptisms and baptismal renewals and new beginnings, we do not want to revert back to old habits.  We do not want to revert back to the complacency that might make more sense if we had all the time in the world.  We don’t.  Our time is limited.  So help us Lord Jesus to do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can.  In your name and to your glory, Amen.