Sunday, July 13, 2014

Two men, two prayers, two outcomes; Luke 18:9-14

As we look at this parable of Jesus today, we should remember that it comes in the context of Jesus’ teaching about the characteristics of the coming of the kingdom of God.  This is what Jesus is presenting here in chapter 18.   As I said last week, it’s not a couple of stories about how to get more results from our prayers.  Many people have taught this section that way. 

But this whole chapter must be looked at in the context of chapter 17 vs. 20, when Jesus responds to a question about the coming of the kingdom of God.  So even though vs.1-8 mentions prayer, and this parable starting in vs.9 mentions prayer, that is not the main thrust of this teaching.  The main thrust is the coming of the kingdom of God and being prepared for it.  In last weeks parable, the teaching was that when the consummation of the kingdom is delayed, we are not to become disillusioned or discouraged, but we are to continue to keep praying for the return of the Lord.  In spite of all that is going on in the world, in spite of the fact that it looks like God isn’t paying attention, Jesus is encouraging us to not lose heart, but keep focused in prayer on the glory which is yet to be revealed.  Don’t give up.  Don’t lose heart. God is going to act in judgment, and we need to be looking for His return.

Now in today’s parable, the emphasis changes somewhat.  Jesus is still talking about the kingdom of God and will continue to do so through the end of the chapter.  But specifically in this parable He is indicating that righteousness is required to enter the kingdom, and  contrasting those who think they are righteous, with those that God declares are righteous. 

Now that is a pretty significant distinction. What this parable is teaching is that it is entirely possible to be self satisfied in your definition of righteousness, and yet not satisfy God’s standard of righteousness.  And that would be a tragedy, would it not?  To go to the end of your life thinking you have obtained righteousness,  only to have the King of Heaven declare you unfit for the kingdom. 

Now this is a very simple parable.  There are only two people in this illustration.  Two men come to worship God, and yet only one is justified.  The first person that Jesus talks about is a Pharisee.  I don’t want to take for granted that everyone here is familiar with a Pharisee.  So let me give you a quick definition.  A Pharisee literally means “separated ones”.  They were a sect of Judaism that strictly observed the law of God and consequently served as something of a public barometer of religious  fervor.  Jesus said about them at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that unless your righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees you could not enter the kingdom of heaven.  To borrow a quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “they were pretty righteous dudes.”  They were known for a fastidious approach to keeping the law.   And that brings up another important aspect of the Pharisees.  They loved to be known for their religious fervor.  They paraded their righteousness in public and made sure that everyone knew just how religious they were.  Jesus called them hypocrites.  The word hypocrite literally means an actor on a stage.  They did their works for the applause of men.

In Matthew 6 Jesus says three times that the Pharisees did their good deeds to be seen of men. [Mat 6:2, 5, 16] 2 "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. ... 5 "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. ... 16 "Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

Now that is the negative aspects of the Pharisees, but to be fair let’s also consider the positives.  After all, no one is perfect, are they?  The good attributes of Pharisees were that first of all they worshipped the one true God.  They recognized and had faith in Jehovah God.  They revered Him.   Secondly, they believed the Scriptures.  They studied the Scriptures and memorized large portions of them.  Thirdly, they prayed regularly.  Fourthly, they were zealous for good works.  And fifthly, they were faithful in attending the religious festivals and Sabbaths associated with worship. 

Now none of those things are bad in and of themselves.  It’s all good stuff; they believed in the one true God, they studied the Scriptures, they prayed a lot,  were zealous for good works, and were faithful in worship.  Sounds like they would have made a good Baptist, or a good Methodist, for that matter.  The point is, it sounds like your typical committed church member, doesn’t it?  Basically good people, church going, God fearing people.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that compared with the average church member today, they actually went much further.  The Pharisees were fastidious about worshipping God.  They took it to another level.  They were the kind of people that if you knew them, you would say “if anyone was going to get to heaven, then the Pharisees were.”

I can’t say that without remembering this lady in the church where I grew up down in eastern N.C.  Her name was Mrs. Brown.  She was the quintessential church lady.  She wore those cat eye glasses that they wore back in the 60’s, and she had a bee bonnet hairdo.  She kind of had a bad overbite too, which she was self conscious about so she kept her lips pursed all the time.  To a little 11 year old boy, Mrs. Brown seemed like the picture of what holiness was supposed to look like.

Back in those days, my dad who was the pastor, loved to preach on the rapture.  And I had developed a morbid fear that somehow Christ was going to come back and everyone was going to be taken, except for me.  Well, one day I thought it actually happened.  We lived next door to the church in the parsonage.  And I remember one summer afternoon, I couldn’t find my mother or my brother.  So I went over to the church to look for them.  And I didn’t see anyone at the church.  My dad’s study was empty.  My mother and brother were nowhere around.  And the really scary thing was there was a day care center in the back of the church.  And that was empty too. 

Well, when I found the day care empty it was the last straw. I started running around the church crying, sobbing, calling out for my mother, thinking that somehow God had decided that I wasn’t really saved and had left me behind.  I was so upset at the thought of having to go through the tribulation and see the anti Christ and all that, that I didn’t know what to do.  And then I thought of Mrs. Brown.  I said to myself that if anyone was saved, it would have to be Mrs. Brown.  And so in desperation I ran home and called her house.  And the phone rang and rang.  And just before I hung up the phone someone picked up the other end.  It was Mrs. Brown.  I was so relieved I couldn’t stop crying.  When I told her what had happened she said she had been leaving the house and forgotten something and came back inside just as the phone was ringing.  Thank God for Mrs. Brown.  I probably wouldn’t be here today if she didn’t answer that phone.

Now that doesn’t have much to do with my message, but the Pharisees were kind of like Mrs. Brown.  If anyone was saved, you would have to think it was the Pharisees. From all outward appearances these were good people, the best of people.  And yet Jesus says that they were not justified before God.  So as we look at this parable we need to figure out what was wrong about their worship. Something was missing. So Jesus reveals what the Pharisee is missing  by means of his prayer. Prayer is one element of worship. And so Jesus examines his prayer, because his prayer reveals his heart.  Now in the parable Jesus says that this Pharisee comes to the temple to pray.  There were morning and evening prayers that were offered at the times of daily sacrifices.  And I am sure that as a good Pharisee regular attendance at the temple sacrifices was his daily practice. 

Now it’s interesting how Jesus describes his prayer.  He says in vs. 11, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’”

Now let’s examine his prayer.  First of all, notice that he is standing.  We have already looked at Matthew 6:5 where Jesus describes a Pharisee praying and standing in a synagogue or on a street corner.   Now there was nothing wrong about standing to pray, in and of itself.  You can stand, you can sit, you can kneel, or you can fall down prostrate; all of those may be appropriate postures of prayer.  But the implication here and in Matt. 6:5 is that the Pharisee was standing in a place and in such a way so as to be seen of men.  So that is the first indication of something wrong.  This person loves the spotlight. They have to be up front, on stage.  Their attitude reveals a lack of humility.

You know, I always feel uncomfortable when some one wants to pray over me in public.  Maybe it’s a lack of humility on my part, I don’t know.  I try to be accommodating.  But sometimes I have to be just a little suspicious of these people that will pray over you in a public place, laying one hand on your shoulder and raising the other hand in the air.  And they go off on this long prayer, supposedly for your benefit.  Maybe I’m too cynical, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes if it is because they want to be seen to be praying over you, to be in the position of the one doing the blessing, and you end up feeling like you’re being used for their benefit. 

Jesus says in Matt. 6:5 that they pray standing in synagogues or on the street to be seen of men, and consequently they have their reward right here on earth.  Jesus gave instruction in Matt. 6:6 how to pray; He said pray in your closet, pray in secret, and your Father who sees the secret things will reward you.  The point is not whether you are standing or sitting or in private or public, the point is your attitude and your motivation for praying.  The point is that you reveal your secrets to God, knowing that God knows the secrets of your heart.

Secondly, notice Jesus says this Pharisee was praying to himself.  That almost seems like Jesus misspoke.  And yet I think it is deliberate.  The Pharisee may have been addressing God, but he was speaking to himself.  He was praying for everyone else’s benefit, but not God’s.  He was not praying for God’s will to be done, for God’s kingdom to come, but he was praying to be heard by men, to be seen by men. 

I often have people say that they don’t know how to pray in public.  Listen, the way to pray in public is not to rehearse, not to listen to how others do it and then try to mimic their style or way of delivery.  It’s not to show how great you are at oratory or prose.  The way to pray is to humble yourself before God.  Open your heart to God and just talk to Him in sincerity and humbleness as if you were the only person in the world.  Empty yourself of your pride.  I’d rather listen to 20 seconds of prayer like that than 30 minutes of prayer from someone that wants to show everyone all the scripture that he knows and all the doctrine that he thinks he knows.  God doesn’t like to be used either.  He won’t accept worship which uses Him to show off. 

Thirdly, his prayer reveals his pride and self righteousness.  He prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”  Notice that this guy manages to mention himself five times in two sentences.  That is an indication of where his heart is at.  He is prideful.  He is comparing himself to others, and those that do so tend to magnify others shortfalls while minimizing there own. 

Paul said in 2Cor. 10:12 about such people that “when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.”  Such people measure themselves by others, compare themselves to others, and think that they are more righteous, more zealous, and view others with contempt.  But the problem is that they are using the wrong standard of measure.  They are measuring fallen men against fallen men, and not against the standard of holiness that God requires. 

God’s standard of holiness is found in the OT and the NT, and it is the same standard in both.  It says in Leviticus chapter 11 and 19 and in 1 Peter 1, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  I quoted RC Sproul a couple of weeks ago as saying that the holiness of God is the only attribute of God that is repeated in triplicate.  Both Isaiah and Revelation declare that God is holy, holy, holy.   The scriptures do not say God is love, love, love.  But it does say that God is holy, holy, holy.  And when you measure yourself by the standard of God’s holiness, then everyone comes short of the kingdom of God.  There is none righteous, no not one.  The Pharisee only measures himself against other men. He measures outward manifestations, and doesn’t examine his heart.

So the Pharisee’s prayer reveals that he is self righteous.  Not holy in the sight of God, but only appearing holy to himself and to men.  And to bolster that self righteousness, he gives a list of what he does which he think constitutes righteousness.  He says, “I fast twice a week.”  The law only required that one fast once a year, and that was on the day of atonement.  There were other times someone could fast if they wished, but there was only one day required. 

The problem though isn’t his fasting, it’s that he did so to be seen of men.  That’s what Jesus said in Matt. 6.  Jesus said that rather when you fast, you should wash your face and put on normal clothes so that people won’t notice that you’re fasting.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Jesus says if you’re noticed fasting by men, then you already have your reward.  I can’t help but wonder if those people that fast at Lent and mark a cross on their forehead in ashes, I can’t help but wonder if they take these instructions by Jesus seriously.  They must not. 

And the other thing this guy offers as an indication of his righteousness is that he tithes of everything that he receives.  Under the old covenant, they had a theocratic style of government that required ten percent of what you got went to fund the national government, ten percent went to fund the national festivals and feasts on high holy days, and ten percent every third year for the poor. So altogether there was about a 23 and a third percent tax, that's what funded the theocratic kingdom of Israel.

But again in Matt. 6, Jesus says the problem with the Pharisees tithing was that they sounded a trumpet before they gave to draw attention to themselves.  And so Jesus said that rather than tithing producing righteousness, they received an earthly reward, they got the praise of men.  Jesus said in Matt. 6 that the way to give alms was not to let your right hand know what your left hand was doing.  Now I think that had a double meaning.  It meant don’t broadcast to your neighbor know what you are giving, first of all.  But I think secondly it meant don’t calculate your giving.  There was a sort of ancient calculator that was called a abacus.  It required two hands to use it.  And so I think that Jesus means don’t worry about figuring out exactly what your ten percent would be.  But the Lord loves a cheerful giver.  Give according to need, recognizing that Jesus is Lord even of your pocketbook. 

Now remember, this is a parable. It’s fictitious account designed to illustrate a spiritual principle.  So this isn’t an exhaustive list of what kinds of things contributed to this Pharisee’s self righteousness.  But these would have been exemplary things of a self righteous, prideful spirit that was not justified before God. 

The second character in the story was called a tax collector.  And there really aren’t too many positive things you could say about a tax collector.  They were on the bottom of the social ladder.  These guys had sold out to the Roman government in order to get a tax collection franchise.  So in the eyes of the Jews, they were traitors of the lowest order.  But not only were they traitors, they were looked at as crooks.  Because they had the authority of the Roman government to charge any amount that they deemed obtainable as long as the government got their share.  So the tax collector would add exorbitant fees on top of the taxes and everything over and above the tax he would pocket.  And he had the government to help him extract these taxes by use of force if necessary.  So pretty much everything the Pharisee said he was glad he was not in the earlier prayer was attributed to tax collectors.  The Pharisee said I’m glad I’m not a swindler, unjust or an adulterer, like this tax collector over here.  See, the only people that would hang out with tax collectors was prostitutes who were also outcasts from proper society. 

But for some reason, this tax collector has come under conviction.  He knows that he is a sinner of the worst order.  He knows that technically they could run him out of the temple.  But he comes to the temple, under conviction of his sins, and he too offers a prayer.  So let’s look at his prayer and what it reveals about this man.

Vs. 13, “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’  This guy is standing as well.  So there is nothing wrong with standing to pray.  But this guy’s attitude is completely different.  He is not standing up front, hoping to be noticed by everyone.  But he is in the back, unwilling to even lift his eyes to heaven.  And Jesus says he is beating his breast.  Now that was something that was associated with mourning.  Mourners, especially women, would wail and beat their fists upon their breasts as they cried out in anguish over the dead.

You get the picture?  This guy is mourning over his sin.  He is in anguish over his sin.  He has been confronted with the holiness and righteousness that God requires and he knows that he is far, far from righteous.  He knows he is a sinner.  He cries out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” 

This guy is exemplifying the kind of attitude that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount; the attitude of mourning over your sin.  That’s what Jesus was talking about in Matt. 5:4 when He said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”   Listen, folks, mourning over your sin is what is required in repentance.  Repentance is not just saying I’m sorry.  Repentance is not just wishing it hadn’t happened.  Repentance is not just having a relationship to God.  Repentance is considering your sin as dead.  Mourning.  Repentance is a desire to turn from your sin.  To renounce your sin.  To run from your sin.  To hate your sin.  That is repentance.  And repentance is absolutely necessary for salvation, for justification, for righteousness. 

There are a lot of people trying to force their way into the kingdom of heaven today on the basis of their self righteousness.  “God is my friend, Jesus loves me and I’m special so I’m in the kingdom of heaven.  I worship God.  I do this and I do that.  I’m a good person. I turned over a new leaf.”  But they have never repented of their sin.  And that is a problem.  That was the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector.  Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one.  The Pharisee was a sinner.  And the tax collector was a sinner.  Both were excluded from the kingdom of God.  But Jesus says only one left that day that was justified before God.  Two people go to worship God.  Two people pray to God.  Yet only one is justified before God. Justified means made righteous, declared not guilty before God.  Only one.  And that was the sinner.  Those that come to Christ must come as a sinner, confessing their sins, repenting of their sins, turning away from their sins.  And for that person, God will justify them.  He will declare them righteous on behalf of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. 

The word for merciful that the tax collector uses there is significant.  He says, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.”  The word merciful comes from the Greek word  “hilaskomai” which  means propitious.  That word is used only one other time in the NT, in Heb. 2:17  which says, “Therefore,  [Jesus] had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”  Propitious means to make atonement.

See, this tax collector knew something that the Pharisee should have known but did not; that is he could never achieve the righteous standard of God.  But he knew that the sacrificial system taught that the lamb was slain as a substitute for his sins.  That was why he came there to worship at the time of the evening sacrifice.  He came asking for God to make propitiation for his sins.  That God would in His grace and mercy provide a substitute like He did for Isaac on the altar, when God provided a ram caught in a thicket.  And we know that Jesus Himself was the sacrificial lamb that was offered for the sins of the world.  Jesus was the substitute that could and did live the perfect sinless life that we can never live. 

David the Psalmist said, “A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise.”  David knew repentance even after he sinned with Bathsheba.  He mourned over his sin, and God restored him and forgave him.  On Wednesday night we are studying Genesis and we saw last week how the Word says that Noah found grace with God.  He found it.  In other words, he didn’t earn it.  God granted to him righteousness on the basis of faith.  And we are saved the same way today that Noah and Abraham and David and all the saints were saved, through faith and repentance. 

Jesus declares in vs. 14, “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

 Listen, pride is the reason this Pharisee left still in his sins.  And repentance, resulting in humility, was the reason that the tax collector was forgiven for his sins.  There are a lot of people today that want to be religious, that want the recognition that comes from being religious, they like the attention that self righteousness brings, they like the way it feels, but they have refused to acknowledge they are a sinner.  They refuse to repent, to turn away from their sins.  They want to continue in their secret sins while keeping an exterior façade of righteousness for everyone else to see.  I hope and pray that no one here today is like that Pharisee.  Justification, righteousness, holiness according to God’s standard can’t be earned, it can’t be faked.  Because God knows the heart.  There is only one way to justification, and that is through the grace of God extended to repentant sinners. 

The tax collector went away justified.  Now there is a lot implied in that statement that isn’t stated outright.  And I don’t have time to go into all of it today.  But let me say this much;  if that man truly repented as Jesus said he did, then it drastically changed his way of life.  He would have had to change the way he did business, wouldn’t he?  He couldn’t claim repentance and continue to cheat people, to rob from people, could he?  He might even have had to quit his job. 

Listen folks, let’s be honest with ourselves first of all.  If we truly mourn over our sin, then we must consider our bodies as dead to sin.  We must die to sin.  If you haven’t really done that, you can say you’re sorry all you want.  You can do religious things.  But it won’t produce justification.  God knows your heart.  I urge you to truly examine yourself today in the light of God’s word and ask yourself if you have ever repented of your sins and asked for God’s forgiveness.  He is willing to forgive you.  He will justify you through the righteousness of Jesus Christ’s atonement for your sins if you will just humble yourselves today.  Let’s pray.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Don’t lose heart; Luke 18:1-8

There is a saying among some Bible commentators when the text reveals something obvious, that the key to understanding the passage is “hanging on the door.”  That simply means that the key is right there in the text, metaphorically on the outside of the door.  In a lot of the parables that Jesus gave the meaning was obscure, and often the disciples had to ask Him privately what they meant.  But in this case Luke presents the purpose of the illustration right at the beginning, hanging on the door. 

The key to understanding this parable then is right there in vs. 1. However, even though the text says that Jesus taught this parable “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart” there is still some confusion among some people as to the principle being taught in this parable.  Is Jesus teaching that the way to get God to do what you want Him to do is just keep on pestering Him day and night until He finally relents and gives you what you want?  Is that what Jesus is saying in this parable?  I’m afraid that many television preachers who favor what is called the “word of faith” style of name it and claim it theology which is so prevalent today do in fact teach that is what Jesus is saying.  They say this is evidence that the key to getting what you want from your prayers is just being persistent, and sooner or later God will either get tired of your prayers and give you what you want, or He will reward your perseverance and give you what you want. But either way the end result is the same; that you get what you want.  And that encapsulates those kind of people’s doctrine concerning prayer.  God is kind of like a reluctant genie who needs to be prodded and bothered to the point of finally giving us what we want.

If you happen to hold that doctrine, then I am afraid that I am here to tell you that is not a Biblical view of God, first of all, and neither is it a Biblical view of prayer.  The key hanging on the door is that we are to always pray and not lose heart.  Always pray we should understand to some extent at least.  But what is meant by don’t lose heart?  What are we in danger of losing heart about?  Not getting that new car that I have been asking God for?  Is that it?  I would suggest that the context of this passage indicates that it  means a little more than that. 

First of all, losing heart is translated from the Greek word, “egkakeō”, (en-kä-ke'-ō) which means to lose heart or become discouraged.    Now why would the disciples become discouraged?  Well, the answer comes in the context of the preceding chapter.  Jesus presents this parable as a continuation of His teaching on the coming of the kingdom of heaven which started in vs. 20 of chapter 17. We are sometimes done a disservice by the relatively modern convenience of chapter and verse headings.  They weren’t there when Luke originally wrote the book.  They can be very helpful in helping us navigate through the Bible, but in cases like this we too often tend to see them as introducing an entirely new concept when actually that is not the case, it should be a continuation of what went before.. 

Now we looked at this passage in detail last week but it might help to have a quick review.  Starting in vs.20 Jesus presents some characteristics about the coming of the kingdom of God.  The first principle that He teaches is that it was already here.  The kingdom of God is where the King is.  And Jesus Christ was the incarnation of God Himself upon the earth.  So He says the kingdom of God is in your midst.  Jesus Christ was the kingdom of God realized.   He was the King prophesied in the Old Testament, coming from the throne of David, the Lion of Judah.  Yet though the kingdom was realized in Jesus Christ, it was still an invisible kingdom.  It was a spiritual kingdom.  It was inaugurated in Jesus Christ, and manifested in the lives of those who believed in Him and who had given their hearts to Him.  So the kingdom of God is simply Jesus ruling in the hearts of His people.  Those who have surrendered their lives to Him, are following Him and obeying His will.  Those people by the way are called the church of Christ.  The church then is the manifestation of the kingdom of God throughout the world.  That is how the kingdom operates and functions.  In and through the church.  The church is not a building, but a body of believers who are the temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in them and empower them to live as God would have us live. 

But there is another stage of the kingdom of God which is yet to come.  And Jesus references that in vs. 22 to 37 of the last chapter.  This stage is the future consummation of the kingdom.  When the King comes back for His bride, the church, and He brings about the consummation of all things.  And the first thing He says about that time yet in the future is that (vs.22) “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.”  In other words, there is going to be a season after Jesus leaves Earth, when His followers are going to be longing for His return.  It’s going to seem like He has been gone forever.  Like He is never coming back. 

Peter spoke of that attitude that will be prevalent in those days in 2Pet. 3:3-4, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts,  and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation."  Now this is where the danger of losing heart comes in.  This is where the danger of becoming discouraged comes in.  God doesn’t act in the time frame that we thought He would.  He doesn’t fit into our patented doctrine of eschatology that we expected.  And so the danger is that we become discouraged, even disillusioned and fall away from the truth.  Jesus warned in Matthew 24 that the difficulty and discouragement of those days would be so great, that He says if it were possible, even the very elect would be misled into apostasy.

So in light of the context of this passage, I believe of this clearly shows that the reason that Jesus gives the disciples (and by extension to us) this parable is that when those discouraging times come, when we long for His coming and yet it seems like it will never come, that we would continue to pray and not lose heart.  He wants us to stay resolved in our faith and not lose hope of the King returning for His bride. 

I don’t know about you folks, but sometimes I must confess I get discouraged.  I begin to lose heart.  When I look at the political landscape in our country I become discouraged.  There is no salvation in Washington, I’m afraid.  When I see the moral decline in our society I sometimes lose heart.  It is a tough time to be a Christian. It’s a tough time to be a man, period.  It’s beginning to be a tough times for the church.  I fully expect that within a few years I will no longer be able to stand out here and preach with boldness the Word of God without being arrested.  Though persecution of the church is no where near the point where it was during the time of the Apostles, or even during the Middle Ages, yet I believe we are at a point in history where the persecution of the church is starting to ramp up.  People are starting to lose jobs because of their faith.  Christians are starting to experience difficulty maintaining their faith in the public arena.  If you stand up for your faith today on most college campuses you will bring on yourself a firestorm of ridicule and attacks.  They will more than likely require you to attend sensitivity training.  Judges are requiring businesses to not only accept but promote an ungodly lifestyle or face fines and possibly incarceration.  The government is trying to force abortion rights through health care legislation.  To quote the Revolutionary War hero Thomas Paine, “these are the times that try men’s souls.”

As Christians, we need more than ever to remember what Paul said in Phil. 3:20, that our citizenship is in heaven.  That is where we will finally one day fit in.  This world is not our home.  We are aliens living in a foreign country, longing for home.  Our hope is not in social programs, or political parties, or in new legislation.  Our hope is for Jesus Christ to return and vindicate His followers.  Our hope is for Jesus to make all things new; to create a new heaven and a new earth.  Our hope is for Jesus too put an end forever to sin and death and the devil.  Our hope is for a glorified body that will never die and never get sick and never grow old. Our hope is to see Jesus.

So Jesus presents this parable because He was concerned that the disciples would soon experience the kind of discouragement similar to that a wife who suddenly finds herself widowed.  He was going to Calvary to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin upon the cross.  He would rise from the dead, but after a few days would ascend into heaven with a promise that one day He would return again for those that remained faithful. And Jesus knew that most of them would die for the cause of Christ. So Jesus offers this parable to illustrate that in the days to come, they should always pray and not lose heart. 

Let’s look at the parable for a moment.  We could easily go off in all sorts of directions with this parable if we do not stay within the confines of the context that I just gave you.  Jesus is actually making a very simple point.  The first thing you should realize is that it was very common in those days to argue from the lesser to the greater.  This was the way that rabbis or teachers would present an argument.  If such and such is true in the lesser example, then it stands to reason that such and such is even more true in the greater example.  It was a graphic way of showing contrast and at the same time illustrating a greater truth.

And so Jesus begins this parable by inventing a story of an unrighteous judge.  Now this judge would be the lesser example.  Jesus says this unrighteous judge “did not fear God and did not respect man.”  This guy was in it for himself.  He was in it for money.  In that society, bribery was commonplace.  Most of the time the judges were political appointees.  And so they used these positions of power to feather their own nests.  It was practically expected.  And Jesus paints a pretty dark picture of this judge.  He isn’t going to do what is right because he loves God or because he has any love of his fellow man.  He was in it for himself. 

But Jesus says there is a widow that “kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’”  Now in that society a widow was a helpless individual.  She had practically no rights without a husband.  She may have had no source of real income.  She could not buy property.  She was the type of person that this unrighteous judge could care less about.  She had no political power, no money to offer, no husband to stand up for her.   And this judge could care less about this sort of person.  She had nothing to offer him.

But as we look at vs. 4, we see that even though this judge was a scoundrel, something about the woman’s persistence was enough to cause him to act on her behalf.  “For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’”  Now that is the parable;  even though he didn’t respect her, doesn’t love God or people, even though he is only out for himself, yet because she is persistently being a bother to him, even to the point of wearing him out, he decides to act on her behalf.  The Greek there is actually saying she gives him a black eye.  I think we would say it like this;  “she is beating me up”.  The woman was relentless.  And he figures it would be easier to answer her than have to look forward to seeing her show up at his court every day.  So the judge and the widow is the lesser example. 

Jesus now uses that lesser example to contrast with the greater example.  Vs. 6, “And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge *said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.”  If such help is given by an unrighteous judge to someone he considers a nobody, then how much more will the righteous God bring about justice for his elect who cry to Him day and night?  Will He delay long over them?  Obviously, the answer is that the righteous God will answer His people’s prayers to Him for deliverance.  He will not delay any longer than necessary to bring about justice for the elect.  See the elect are not just nobodies.  The world may think you don’t matter.  That being a Christian is equivalent to being a loser.  They may think that what we suffer is insignificant.  But it is not so with God.  We are His chosen ones, the bride of Christ.  We are of such value to God that He gave Jesus up to suffer and die for us that He might bring us to Himself.  How much more then will the righteous God bring about justice for His people?

But the problem for most of us is that our timetable is not on par with God’s timetable.  Our agenda is not God’s agenda.  And so we become impatient.  We lose heart, because we don’t get what we want when we want it.  Going back to the reference in 2 Peter we looked at earlier, 2Pet. 3: 8-9 says, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” 

See the Lord is not slow because He is sleeping or preoccupied.  He doesn’t need to be roused, to be prodded in order to help His people.  But the Lord has a time schedule that is  eternal in scope, whereas ours is temporal.  The years of our lives slip by and we scurry around, worrying about all these temporal things, feeling the weight of every hour and every second.   And yet against the scale of eternity, our lives are but a vapor, here for a few seconds and then gone. 

I was trying to explain this concept of time last Wednesday evening at our Bible study where we had several young people in attendance.  And I said that when we have lived a thousand years with God in eternity, it will be like only one day.  And then we live another thousand years and in eternity it is only like having been alive two days.  Can you imagine that? So God’s timetable is different than ours.

But in addition to the principle of eternity is the idea of God being patient with mankind, to give them time to repent.  “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  This is where Jesus reveals the heart of God.  Yes, God is pictured as a Judge, coming in the consummation to bring judgment to the Earth.  But God is a reluctant judge.  He isn’t willing for any to perish. 

We saw that in the last chapter in the illustration given of Noah and the ark which we looked at last week.  Peter says concerning the days of Noah in 1Peter 3:20 that the patience of God kept waiting.  Waiting for what?  What was God being patient about?  Well the answer is He was waiting for people to repent.  The Bible says that Noah was a preacher of righteousness, and that he built an ark for 120 years after God pronounced judgment upon the earth.  For 120 years God kept waiting for people to repent at the preaching of Noah.  And yet they did not repent.

So if our persistent prayer is not necessarily designed to get God to act according to our timetable, or to act on our agenda, then what exactly is prayer designed to do?  I think the answer is found in the last question Jesus asks there in vs. 8, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  Prayer is designed to keep us strong, to keep us from losing heart, from becoming discouraged.  It is to bring us into communion with God, to see God’s perspective, to dialogue with God.  Prayer is designed to keep us in the faith. 

Now once again, Jesus brings us back to the real point of this illustration.  He says in vs. 8 “that when the Son of Man comes” will He find faith on the earth.  The emphasis I want to bring out is “when the Son of Man comes” should serve to keep us on track here in the exegesis of this parable.  The parable is about not losing heart because the Lord seems to delay His coming.  It’s about not losing heart in service to the Lord, in the trials and tribulations that accompany salvation.  Did you know that Jesus promises tribulations for His followers?  John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  And because Jesus overcame sin and death and the world and hell and rose again from the grave He now sits on the Father’s right hand and will return again to take out His church, the faithful.

So then how are we to pray?  First of all, Jesus says pray always.  Pray always.  You know, every day I have the intention that today I am going to exercise.  Today I am going to work out.  I have that intention.  I mean well.  But I have learned that unless I purposefully plan a time to work out and then go to that place, it just doesn’t happen.  The day slips by and I lay in bed at night and say, O my, I forgot to work out today.  Or I didn’t have time to work out today.  And I’m afraid that prayer is a lot like that.  I need to schedule prayer.  I got smart one day and decided to combine my prayer and my workout.  So now when I run that is my time to pray.  I run mostly through rural farm roads near my house.  So I can pray out loud and it doesn’t bother anyone.  And I’ve found that works for me.  Maybe you have a long commute to work when you can pray.  But bottom line, if you want to be found faithful, you will make prayer a priority in your life. 

Jesus was our best  example of prayer, wasn’t He?  The Bible says He regularly went away by Himself to pray, sometimes all night.  If Jesus needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray? 

Remember on the night that Jesus was arrested before His crucifixion?  And He prayed so hard that He sweated drops of blood?  I can’t imagine that kind of  prayer.  But what stands out to me is that He prayed, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”  Even though He was equal with God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or held onto.  He submitted Himself in obedience to the will of God.  He was concerned with the coming of the Kingdom of God.  That was the purpose of His prayer. 

So we are to pray always, but what are we supposed to pray for?  Obviously, we pray for the coming of the Lord, the coming of the kingdom. As the example of the Lord’s Prayer illustrates, we should pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I submit to you that we need to pray not for our will to be done, but for God’s will to be done. We don’t pray to manipulate God to our will, but to be conformed to His will. 

So when we are to pray; always.  What are we to pray? The coming of the kingdom, first in our hearts and then in the world.  And finally, why are we to pray? Remember on that night in which He was betrayed, He went into the Garden to pray and took a little further with Him Peter, James and John.  And He said to them, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  That is why we pray.  Prayer is designed to keep us from falling into temptation.  I’ve never yet fallen into temptation when I was praying, have you?  I fall into temptation when I either deliberately or inadvertently stop praying.  Prayer is a safeguard against temptation.

Unfortunately, many of us are like the disciples were that night.  They were so tired they couldn’t keep their eyes open.  They kept nodding off.  And when suddenly they were awakened by the gang of soldiers and ruffians coming through the woods to arrest Jesus they found themselves woefully unprepared for the trials that lie ahead.  They all ended up falling away from Him that night.  Peter even found himself cursing and denying Jesus to the soldiers around a campfire later that evening.  And like the disciples when we neglect to pray, when we subordinate prayer to rest and relaxation, to 3 hours of television, or computer, we end up falling asleep spiritually.  Prayer is like being on guard.  On watch against temptation.

Listen, I can assure you that tribulations and troubles will come on all who profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  God doesn’t want you to lose heart at the trials that will come.  One way to prevent that discouragement that can lead to falling into temptation is to stay on your knees before God.  Acknowledging that you need His help, His protection.  Confessing your trust in His care.  Professing your faith in His promises and His providence.  Entrusting yourself to a faithful Creator.  I hope and pray that when He comes, you will be found faithful. 

Heb. 10:19-25  “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  Amen.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thy kingdom come; Luke 17: 20-37

The Bible says in Luke 8 that Jesus began to go about from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God.  Jesus said about His ministry in Luke 4:43 that “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”  Now this has been the ongoing theme of Jesus’ message; “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Up until this point, Jesus has been preaching regarding the requirements to enter the kingdom, and the characteristics of those citizens of the kingdom.  His miracles were done to illustrate that the kingdom of God was being manifested on Earth.  The power to do these wonderful miracles should have been evidence that Jesus was in fact the King of the kingdom of God who had come to Earth to establish His kingdom.

But obviously, there was still a great deal of confusion about the kingdom on the part of the people that were following Him in the first century.  And I would suggest that there is a great deal of confusion even today among 21st century followers as well.  If I were to ask you to describe the kingdom of God, I’m sure that I would get several dozen different answers.  It’s one of those phrases that is very familiar, and yet perhaps has not been thought through to the point of really understanding it.

The Pharisees obviously had many questions regarding what Jesus was teaching about the kingdom.  And even the disciples had misunderstandings as to the nature of the kingdom.  So as we look at our text for today we see the Pharisees initially asking the question of when will the kingdom of God come.  And then as Jesus is answering that question He turns to the disciples and gives a more detailed explanation in response to what must have been their unasked questions.

Jesus begins to answer this question concerning the coming of the kingdom of God in vs. 20, saying, ““The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”  Here is what Jesus is saying;  the kingdom of God is an invisible kingdom.  It is a spiritual kingdom.  Jesus says it isn’t with signs that can be observed.  It is not physically apparent.  But He says the kingdom of God is in your midst.  It’s right in front of you and you can’t see it.  Jesus was no less than the King of the kingdom.  So He defines the kingdom.  And the citizens of the kingdom are those who recognize Jesus as Sovereign and that have submitted to be His servants.  It is a kingdom where Christ rules and reigns over our hearts and minds and wills.

I feel for this to really be understood I must try to show you the big picture of the plan of God.  Because the kingdom of God is eternal, it extends from Genesis to Revelation.  And there are different stages of it.  Different ways it is manifested at different times.  But perhaps it will help if I go back to the beginning and explain the best I can how the kingdom of God has come.  So to begin with we will consider the purpose of the kingdom.  Secondly, we’ll look at the institution of the kingdom, then the realization of the kingdom, the manifestation of the kingdom and finally the consummation of the kingdom and some characteristics of what is called the day of the Lord.

First the purpose of the kingdom. It really starts with Genesis, with the creation and the purpose of God.  It says in Genesis 2 that when God made man, He said it was not good for man to be alone.  And yet, right after that God gave Adam the job of naming all the animals of creation.  So Adam names each creature that God created, thousands upon thousands of them were ushered past him and he examined them and named them all.  And the scripture says that there was not found among all the animals a mate suitable or like unto him.  And so God put Adam to sleep and took from his side material from which He made woman.  She was like him, compatible to him, desirable to him, a helper suitable unto him whom he could love, and that would love him in return so that the scripture says that they would be as one flesh.  He could have fellowship, communion, love, companionship.  This was God’s design for man.

But actually, this was also a picture of the purpose that God chose to create man.  God looked around the universe, at all the creatures that He had made, the worlds that He had created, all the various forms of angelic creatures of which I believe the scripture indicates were millions upon millions, He looked at all that He had made and He found no one that was a suitable mate for Him.  No one that was like unto Him that could choose to love Him and respond to Him in the way that He desired for fellowship, for communion, for companionship.

And so God said in Gen. 1:26, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Now when God made every other thing in the universe, He simply spoke it into existence.  He simply spoke and millions upon millions of stars instantly took form and began to burn, lighting up the heavens.  He spoke and millions of varieties of plants and fauna instantly appeared.  He simply spoke and the sea was instantly teeming with millions of fish of every conceivable shape and color and size.  Yet when God said let Us make man in Our image according to Our likeness, God didn’t simply speak us into existence.  This pinnacle act of creation was actually an act of love.  God got down on His hands and knees in the dirt of the earth and began to form with His hands the body of man.  He lovingly shaped us into His image, into an image that was like Him, compatible to Him with His own hands.  He caressed us and shaped us into a body that He would love.  And then when He had formed us in His image, it says He breathed the breath of life into that body and man became a living soul.  God bent down and placed His lips upon man’s lips, and kissed into man the breath of life.

The purpose should be quite clear, man was made for God, just as woman was made for man.  Mankind was made to be the bride of Christ. Eph. 2:10 says that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.  John chapter 1 says that Christ was in the beginning with God and all things are made by Him, and without Him nothing was made.  We were made to be the companion of Christ.  To become one with Christ.

Now time will not allow me to elucidate all the details of the fall.  It should be familiar to you all.  But suffice it to say that God created man to be His bride, to love Him and have fellowship and communion with Him, and to share in His glory, to share in His kingdom, even to rule and reign with Him.  But when given a choice between God and evil, mankind chose evil.  Satan and His angels seduced man to sin against God in an attempt to overthrow the rule of God.  Man revolted.  And so sin entered the world, and death through sin.

That leads to the second stage, the institution of the kingdom. Though sin had entered the world, separating man from God and causing death, God was still in control.  The creation was still under the Sovereignty of God. God still had a plan by which He would redeem from fallen humanity a people who would love Him.  And so God instituted that phase of the plan by calling Abraham to come out from the world and go to a place where He would eventually disclose Himself to the children of Abraham.  God chose a man, who gave birth to a tribe, who formed a nation, so that He might disclose Himself and reveal Himself to them, that He might love them and provide for them a way to escape the death which was a result of sin. It was to be a theocracy, a nation ruled by God. But once again, mankind rebelled against God’s rule.  Rather than submit to God as their sovereign, man chose another king, a mere man to rule over them.  And a succession of kings subverted the peoples love and submission to God towards themselves.  Throughout history though, God always kept a remnant.  A small minority of people on the earth that loved God, that served God, that recognized His sovereignty, that served His kingdom and looked for the day when the kingdom would be realized.

That brings us to the realization of the kingdom.  The long awaited day came when at just the right time, Jesus was fathered by the Holy Spirit, born of a woman in a non descript small town called Bethlehem.  God authored this next phase of the kingdom, when no less than the Creator humbled Himself to become a man like us, to take away the penalty of sin so that He might make it possible for all of mankind to be reconciled to God.  And God did this by sending Jesus to become our substitute, to live the righteous life that we could never live, and pay the penalty for sin that we could never pay.  2 Cor. 5:21 says, “God made [Jesus] who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Yet as it had been prophesied in Isaiah 53, the world did not recognize Him as their Savior. “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be drawn to Him.”  But God loved mankind so much, that He poured out His wrath upon His only Son, the spotless lamb of God.  “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried.  He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.  The chastening for our well being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.”    But as Isaiah prophesied, He came unto His own and His own did not receive Him.  Jesus wept over His nation, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!”

Jesus Christ was the realization of the plan of God to bring about reconciliation of those who would enter the kingdom.  John 1:17 says that “the law was given through Moses, grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”  This was the way that God designed to bring about the righteousness that He required to be a citizen of the kingdom of God.  Only a righteous, holy God could atone for the sins of the world.  And God has ordained that by faith in what Jesus has done for us, by confessing our sins, and submitting to His Lordship over our lives, we might be saved.  We gain entrance into the kingdom of God.  When we survey all that God has done for us, when we realize all that Christ suffered for us, then they that have submitted to Him in faith and repentance should respond by loving the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our might.  This is what we were made for.  And that relationship that was planned from creation can now be realized as we live in the Spirit and not in the flesh as sons of God.

When Jesus died and rose again God brought about the next phase of the kingdom.  This phase came through the Holy Spirit and is known as the church age. The church is the manifestation of the kingdom.  God was no longer just revealing Himself through the nation of Israel, but to every nation and tribe on earth.  As the Apostles were indwelled by the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost,  men and women from every nation in the Middle East heard the gospel preached, and 3000 people were saved in one day, starting the first church.

The church is the manifestation of the kingdom of God because God sent the Spirit of Christ to live in us as we live in the world. Having been made holy by the transference of Christ’s righteousness, we now receive the Holy Spirit to dwell in our holy of holies as we become the temple of the Holy Spirit.  As Paul said in [1Co 6:19-20 NASB] 19 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

The church is now the manifestation of Christ to the world, by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in those who have given their hearts to God.  That is why the scripture says we are to be holy even as God is holy.  We are ambassadors for the kingdom of God to the world, serving God through the power of Christ living in us.

Then finally, we come to the consummation of the kingdom.  This is what Jesus addresses in the remainder of the chapter.  He has alluded to the consummation, or the day of the Lord in various parables and teachings. In chapter 12, Jesus compares the consummation of the kingdom to a master who gives to his servants a stewardship.  That means that he gives them an assignment, a responsibility, something that they are supposed to do until He comes again.  And Jesus says that there are two types of servants in this kingdom.  Those that are faithful, and those that are unfaithful.  When the master comes back and finds the faithful and sensible steward who did his master’s will, he says that steward will be blessed and will be put in charge of all his possessions.  But those servants who lived according to their own desires and disregarded the commands of the master will be cut into pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers.

Jesus makes it clear in multiple illustrations that at the consummation there will be both a day of judgment for the lost and a day when the king will return in glory for his bride.  Those that are found righteous will be swept up with the Lord and the rest who are unsaved left to face the wrath of God.  So now Jesus turns from the Pharisees and addresses the unspoken questions of the disciples.

In all the remaining verses He relates the coming of the kingdom as the day of the Lord.  He says first of all that the day of the Lord will be something longed for by the righteous.  In vs. 22, “And He said to the disciples, ‘The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. “They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away, and do not run after them.’”  Jesus is saying that He will not return immediately.  There will be a time of longing, of looking for the coming of the Lord.  And of course, there will be many deceivers, many anti Christs, many false Christs who will attempt to deceive the world.  Jesus wanted His disciples to be aware, to be on their guard against false Messiahs.

Next He emphasizes that the day of the Lord will be public, it will not be something that is private or secret.  But Jesus says in vs. 24, “For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day.”  Lightning lights up the entire sky, doesn’t it?  It’s shocking, it’s electrifying.  It can be terrifying.  But one thing for sure, when you’re outside in the dark and lightning crashes, you see the entire sky light up from one end to the other.  There is booming thunder.  Jesus is giving a very vivid illustration of the way that He will come in power at the consummation of His kingdom.  When He came the first time, no one recognized Him.  But when He comes the second time, Rev. 1 says “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.”

Thirdly, Jesus tells His disciples that the day of the Lord will not come until He suffers many things and His gospel is rejected.  This was a real issue for the disciples.  They couldn’t accept that the Messiah would have to suffer and die in order to usher in the kingdom.  Their understanding of the kingdom was in militaristic or political terms.  They expected a revolution, a socio/political solution that would usher in a time of peace and prosperity.  And unfortunately, that is the same expectation a lot of false teachers are espousing today.  They teach a social gospel, a prosperity gospel, and they want nothing to do with “take up your cross and follow Me.” But Jesus says suffering precedes glorification.

Then Jesus says the day of the Lord will be a day of sudden judgment.  He uses two Old Testament examples to illustrate that it will be business as usual right up until the day when He returns.  Vs. 26, "And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed."

Listen, not only does He imply the suddenness of the coming of the Lord, but He is emphasizing in a very dramatic way the judgment with which He comes.  In the days of Noah, mankind had managed to so defile itself and become so corrupted that the only solution that God had to correct it was to wipe every living thing off the face of the earth save those that were in the Ark.  One of the things that we are looking at in our study in Genesis this week is found in chapter 6, when it says the fallen angels took for themselves wives among the daughters of men. So you have a form of sorcery that spawned a demonic race.  Satan once again was trying to overthrow creation by producing an unredeemable offspring.   And that union produced a race of men that were exceedingly evil.  6:5 “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

The interesting thing about the flood was that God gave the people of the earth 100 years to repent.  Peter says that Noah was a preacher of righteousness.  And Jude says concerning that preaching that the patience of God kept waiting for people to repent.  But in 100 years, no one was saved. They rejected the message. So the day came when God closed the door, and the heavens broken open and the fountains of the deep broke open.  And God wiped the face of the earth clean.

The other example Jesus gives is that of Lot.  Lot was living in the lap of luxury.  It was a well watered city, a flourishing civilization.  And yet the evil of that city grew so great that God sent His judgment against it.  The great defining sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was that of homosexuality.  It was so blatant, so open, so prevalent that the entire town turned out to try to take the two angels that came to warn Lot. And so God rained down fire and brimstone upon the city and destroyed every living thing.

I can’t help but see parallels between those two illustrations and the current situation in the world today.  You know in Revelation 9:21 it says concerning the people at the end of the age that oppose God that they will “not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.”  Immorality is translated from the Greek word pornea, which means illicit sexual intercourse such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.   Isn’t that the state of affairs today?  Society wants to redefine God’s laws to say that such things are not sin any more, because we don’t want to admit it’s sin.  But God says it is sin. Changing the law does not change the fact that it is an abomination to God.

And it’s interesting that the Greek word for sorceries used in Revelation is the word pharmakea, from which we get the word pharmacy.   The characteristic of the end times is that they  won’t repent of their drug use.  And once again we see society attempting to make what is a sin legal by legalizing marijuana.

Listen folks, I am confident that we are living in the days of Noah.  We are living in Sodom and Gomorah.  The patience of God has been waiting, the gospel has been preached and yet they will not repent.  And soon Jesus Christ the King is coming back in judgment.  The world wants to limit God to only love, and equate their immorality as on par with God’s love.  But they have failed to understand that God is  holy and righteous and must render justice against all unrighteousness. [Rev 19:11-16 NASB] 11 “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."

Then in vs. 31 Jesus says that the day of the Lord will discriminate against those who love the world and the things of the world.  "In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it."

Can you imagine the futility and the foolishness of the people in the days of Noah running into their houses to try to save their possessions?  The judgment of the earth in the consummation of the kingdom is going to be absolute. [2Pe 3:7, 10 NASB] 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. ... 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

In vs. 34 Jesus says that the day of the Lord will be a day of division. "I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left."  In other words, God knows those that are His.  He will take His people out of the judgment.  But it will be a division even to the point of separating two in bed, one will be taken and the other left.  No one gets into the kingdom on the basis of their wife or their husband or their family.  God will judge every man and woman according to their deeds.  God knows those who are His.

And finally, in vs. 37, the day of the Lord will come in response to the increase of corruption of the earth.  “The disciples answering said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”  The disciples must have thought that this would be a judgment that would be limited geographically.  Perhaps they thought it would be on the rest of the world but Israel would be spared.  But it should have been pretty clear that the judgment of God will be universal, that is the picture of the lightning flashing from one end of the sky to the other.  So Jesus gives a rather obscure answer to their obscure question.  Where the body is the vultures will be gathered.  I believe this is a reference to the spiritually dead.  You can usually tell when something has died in the country by the fact that vultures are circling around up in the sky above it.  And I believe that is what Jesus is indicating here.  That when the stench of the decay of the spiritually dead rises up to heaven, then the vultures will come.  Judgment will come upon the whole world when sin reaches a certain final state of corruption.

Folks, I’m afraid that the corruption of the world has already paralleled the corruption found in the days of Noah.  We are living as in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The patience of God has kept waiting for 2000 years, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  But the fact is the same today as it was in the days of Noah, the days of Lot and even the days of Jesus and the Apostles.  They will not repent of their sins, but revel in their rebellion against the King of Kings.  And one day soon, without warning, Jesus Christ will suddenly return.

[Mat 24:29-31 NASB] 29 "But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. 31 "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

Listen, today is the day of salvation.  The way unto the kingdom of heaven has been revealed through Jesus Christ.  The penalty for our sins has been paid by Jesus Christ.  All that remains is for you to repent of your sins, and by faith commit to serve Him and follow Him with all of your being, to love Him with all your heart.  Jesus Christ is coming again, not only in judgment against the rebellious, but also to deliver, to take up His bride which has been redeemed by His blood and to present them faultless before the throne of God.  You have a choice today.  Who will you serve?  Who will you obey?  I pray that you will be found the faithful and sensible steward who on the day of the Master’s return was found doing his Master’s will, and who will receive the blessing of God and put in charge of all His possessions.