Facing the future (Part Two)
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous creatures, who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and singing voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Now such creatures, we know, were not real but the story told about them does shed light onto our everyday lives. There are, and always have been, plenty of voices in the world that call out to us promising us the world. This has been true down the centuries and remains true for us who live in the 21 st century.
"Here is the pleasure you want" they say and "here is the satisfaction you long for." "This is the way to go - don’t listen to those religious kill-joys" and thousands upon thousands are duped. Instead of finding that all is fine they are simply led astray.
The drug pusher doesn’t tell his new client that the drugs he’s selling could fry his brain, destroy not only his relationships but his entire life and lead him into such dependency that the only thing that will seem important to him will be to know where his next fix is coming from.
The voices in the world won’t tell you that there is a God who will one day call you to account for how you have used the life he gave you; who will ask you what you did with the gifts he entrusted to you. No, the voices in the world won’t call upon you to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. They won’t tell you to prepare to meet your God and they will pour scorn on any thought you might have of taking genuine spiritual matters seriously. Those voices will tell you that the very idea of sin is old-fashioned belonging to another age and not something you should worry about. "Just do it" says its publicity and who cares if it’s naughty if it’s nice?
The answer is simply: God cares. He cares so much that, in his love, he sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might not perish but come to enjoy life in all its fullness as we believe in him who died for our sins.
My friends, a day of judgment is coming and it is a serious day. We know it must be serious otherwise God would never have sent his unique Son, Jesus, to die a horrible death in our place. He would never have done that if sin was irrelevant, if judgment were unreal.
Signs and Judgment
Last week we considered how Jesus spoke to his followers about the judgment that was going to fall upon the corrupt religious system that depended upon the Temple in Jerusalem. His followers assumed that such a judgment must mean the end-time judgment and asked Jesus for signs that would show them when it was going to take place.
Jesus made it clear that they were mistaken to identify the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple with the universal end-time judgment. The one prefigured the other but they were not the same thing.
Jesus then proceeded to warn his followers about developing an unhealthy fixation for signs.
Sadly many Christians have erred at this point and have come up with complex and conflicting chronological outlines of just how they imagine the events concerning the end-times must unfold.
Jesus’ concern in teaching his followers was not to provide us with a highly detailed prophetic road map of the future – he wanted rather to ensure that his followers be ready and prepared whenever those events marking the end of time as we know it might come about.
In effect he taught that there were two types of signs and neither was designed to provide that kind of detailed road map of the future that so many long to discover.
The first set of signs that Jesus referred to were signs that characterised this present age and weren’t signs of the end at all. In this set would be included such things as: wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines and pestilences etc. These signs would only in very general sense indicate the reality of judgment to come and they would occur throughout history to a greater or lesser extent.
The second set of signs indicates that judgment has arrived rather than provide an early warning alert that judgment is on its way. The "sign" of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple would be the actual surrounding of the city by the hostile forces of the Roman legions. The "sign" only appears as judgment is already falling.
Well we looked at all this last week and now it is time to move on from the fall of Jerusalem to consider what Jesus had to say about end-time judgment and his own return.
Once again we must not allow ourselves to get side-tracked into searching for that elusive road map of prophecy. Jesus in speaking as he did wanted to emphasise two things:
He wanted to emphasise that his own return "the coming of the Son of Man" and end-time judgment are historical and factual realities. These are simply events that will occur.
He wanted this information to significantly influence the behaviour of his followers
We would be wise to learn from this. How much and energy we could waste in trying to sort out all the details of an event about which the apostle Paul, following the lead of the Master, was to write:
1Thess.5:2 "you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night."
In referring to the coming of the Son of Man Jesus did refer to signs that would accompany his coming but exactly how all the details fit together will probably not be fully understood until those events actually unfold.
We will probably not go far wrong if we understand those signs as those of a clumsy burglar who, in the very act of breaking in, knocks over a vase sending it crashing to the floor and setting the dog off barking. The signs seem to be things that closely accompany his arrival rather than pointing to an event that remains some way off in the future.
As the end events unfold and the settled order of things is unsettled many, fearing the worst, will simply not know what to do.
But it didn’t need to be like that. Jesus told his followers that they weren’t to panic – why should they? After all it only meant that their redemption was at last drawing near. That is, their full and final salvation was to occur. Everything they longed for was on the verge of fulfilment – not only to depart and be with Christ (which is better by far) but also to enjoy their new resurrection bodies, bodies perfectly adapted for life in the age to come!
Small wonder that Jesus should say:
v.28 "straighten up and raise your heads"!
To press home his point Jesus then added an illustration designed to help his listeners think clearly. It was another illustration from their everyday experience of horticulture: when you see trees coming out in leaf it is a sure sign that summer has already drawn near. You know what that is like too. One day you look out into the garden and there seems to be no life at all but then you notice a bud or two and before you know it there’s life everywhere. It’ll be like that with the Son’s coming and the Kingdom of God.
Opposition to Christians and the gospel message of Jesus Christ will continue until the end – this evil and adulterous generation will still be unprepared to hear and respond to the word of God. It might even seem as though godlessness has won the day. But we’re not to think that at all for it is not the godless who are in control:
v.33 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
We have it on the authority of Jesus!
How then should we live?
Having spoken about the sure and certain reality of his future coming Jesus once again turned to speak to his followers about how this knowledge was to affect the way they were to live their lives.
How important it is for us not only to know the right things but to live our lives in an appropriate manner, to do the right things as well!
As Jesus brought to a close what he had to say about his return he wouldn’t finish before he gave them some very practical advice. Jesus gave this advice because the matter was serious for his disciples then and it is serious for those of us who would be his disciples now.
Salvation is a gracious gift that is offered to all who put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ but we are not to think of salvation as somehow being sterile. When a man or a woman truly receives this salvation their life is transformed – life may be tough but the true believer keeps on going for it is:
Mt.24:13 "the one who endures to the end (who) will be saved."
Jesus tells his followers three important things that they must do in order to make sure that they do endure to the end. His disciples must:
Before we think for a moment about what this all means let me encourage you. We’re not to imagine that somehow God starts the ball of our salvation rolling but leaves us to finish things off by ourselves. He wants us to endure to the end and is intimately involved in the beginning, middle and end of our salvation. Not only does he give us salvation but he also gives us the means by which we may endure to the end and there is yet more: he works in us and with us to enable us to do so.
If you’re tempted to think that the demands of the Christian life are simply too difficult and that you won’t be able to meet those demands let me remind you of a couple of promises we find in the Bible concerning our God. Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi and assured them that:
Phil.1:6 "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
And to the Christians in Corinth he declared that God was the one who would:
1Cor.1:8 "sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."
So believer you must take Jesus advice and commands seriously and what’s more you can!
Let’s look a little more closely at what is involved:
Not for signs but we are to watch ourselves. That is we are not to adopt a ‘live and let live’ attitude but we are to be careful about how we live:
With regard to sin:
taking care that we do not start to minimise the importance of sin
taking care that we don’t start redefining sin perhaps by listening too much to what the world has to say
taking care that we don’t become dominated or enslaved to sin all over again.
taking care to deal biblically with our sin – repentance and confession when we fail and slip up
With regard to duty:
Am I still doing what I ought to be doing?
Regular in public worship
Regular in Bible reading
Regular in prayer
Regular in speaking the truth in love
Regular in concern of Christian brothers and sisters
Regular in relations with family and friends
With regard to taking opportunities of doing good to others
Am I still eager to respond when and where I can?
Or am I eager to excuse myself
None of us will be perfect in this life so we will need to watch ourselves to see what direction our life is generally heading in. Are we generally heading in the right direction with occasional blips or are those blips becoming the main feature of our lives and troubling us less and less so that we are going backwards rather than forwards?
Jesus lists some specific areas which might seem at first sight unnecessary in speaking to Christians but Jesus is a realist and knows just what his followers are capable of if they don’t take care:
He warns of dissipation – that is he warns against an over-indulgence in sensual pleasures.
He warns against drunkenness – the abuse of alcohol, drugs etc leads to a lack of self-control – you only have to see TV footage of Friday night binge drinkers to have some idea of what that looks like.
He warns against being unduly weighed down with the cares of life. If alcohol leads to loss of self control being overly concerned with the cares of this life leads to loss of trust and the consequent redirecting of our efforts into unnecessary channels.
The fact that Jesus could envisage his followers failing in such significant ways should not lead us to justify our own failures but it should make us realise that Jesus knew the kind of people he was calling to be his disciples. He wasn’t looking for perfect sinless people – he came to save sinners just like you and me!
To stay awake
If you drop off to sleep you don’t know any longer what is happening around you. Life goes on round about you but you’re unaware of it all and inactive. Germany get knocked out of the World Cup but you didn’t see the goals and you didn’t rejoice!
You can be like that spiritually too. You become insensitive to everything going on around you. Everything seems dream-like and unreal. Matters of the utmost importance float in and out of the picture and don’t influence you as they once did and ought to still.
Wake up! Stay awake! The enemy of our souls wants to rock us off to sleep rendering us ineffective for God and fruitless in our lives and he will use any ruse he can but he is as dangerous as a roaring lion!
- For understanding of the realities that really matter in this world
- For strength to escape from the many dangers that are out there
- For the desire to escape those dangers and not to be drawn in by them and duped
- For the ability to stand and stay standing in the faith "Stand up stand up for Jesus"
- For that perseverance which will bring us safe to the end and to hear the approbation of the Lord "Well done, good and faithful servant... enter into the joy of your Master."
- For you brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same!
May we be doers of this word of Jesus and not mere hearers of it!