Sunday, October 26, 2014

The plan to kill Jesus, Luke 22: 1-6

Every year a certain website publishes the most popular baby names.  It’s interesting to see how that changes from year to year.  One hundred years ago the most popular boy’s name was John, and the most popular girl’s name was Mary.  Not all that exciting.  In those days people tended to name their children from the Bible. 

According to baby center dot com, in 2014, the most popular boy’s name is Liam, and the most popular girl’s name is Emma.  You might imagine that Bible names might have fallen out of favor somewhat, but a surprising number are still in vogue.  For instance, Noah is number two for boys.  Other Bible names that made it into the top 40 include Elijah, Luke,  Daniel, Isaac, Caleb and several others. 

Girls names though not so much.  Only Hannah, Grace and Elizabeth made the top 40.  Anyhow, this website has records of the top baby names since 1880.  But there is one name that is very well known and yet never made it into those lists.  It’s a name that no parent would ever want to name their child.  I can’t even imagine anyone naming your dog this name.  That name is Judas.  It’s a name synonymous with treachery, with being a traitor.  It’s a name of infamy.

Today we find ourselves looking at a passage of scripture that introduces us to that infamous person.  He is one of the most tragic characters presented in the Bible.  But Luke does not give us a lot of information about Judas.  Other than the information given in this chapter, Luke does not detail a lot of the events that pertained to Judas.  We have to look in the other gospels to fill in the blanks. 

But as I said, Judas is notorious as the quintessential traitor, as the one who betrayed Christ.  Most people are somewhat familiar with his story.  However, Luke presents a bigger story, the big picture, and Judas is just one of the players in it.  Luke presents the plan to kill Jesus, and in this passage we will see that in some respects, Judas is but a minor player in the sovereign plan of God.    

There are four elements to this plan to kill Jesus that are presented in these first six verses particularly that we will be looking at today which are an introduction to what is called sometimes the passion of Christ; the final hours leading to His arrest and crucifixion.  I have titled today’s message the plan to kill Jesus.  And the text will show four elements to that plan.  First, the providence of God.  Second the plot of the priests.  Third the possession of Judas,  and fourth the participation of wicked men.

Now even though in vs. 53 Jesus refers to this time as an hour belonging to the power of darkness, the text reveals that though these events are the results of the actions of  evil,  everything that happens is within the sovereign scope of God’s purpose and will. 

So in that respect let’s look first at the providence of God.  Providence in this case referring to the purpose of God, and the provision of God in and through all circumstances.  And we see that principle indicated in vs. 1. “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching.”  What that verse indicates is that God’s plan called for Christ to be offered up as the Passover Lamb on this particular feast day. 

Christ’s death was planned by God before the foundation of the world.  That’s why He is in Scripture called the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.  It was a divine plan on God’s part that Jesus would die even before the world was created.  And that plan was foretold when God instituted the Passover Feast as the children of Israel were preparing to leave Egypt.  God gave specific, detailed instructions to observe the Passover 1500 years before Christ was born which was intended to teach the purpose and plan of God to provide a Passover Lamb that would save His people from the fear of death.  A Lamb that would provide escape from man’s enslavement to sin and from being held captive by the devil to do his will as illustrated by the Israelite’s captivity in Egypt. 

A later prophecy in Isaiah 53 makes it even more clear that God would cause this Lamb of God to suffer for the sins of the world, that those who believe on Him could be saved. Isaiah 53:4-7 “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through 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.  All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.”

So we see that God had appointed an hour, He had a purpose and a plan established before time began that He would provide a Lamb on a certain Passover Feast in 30 AD who would be the sacrifice for the sins of the world so that men might be saved.  Satan, Judas, the high priests and scribes and the mob are just players in plan established and foreknown by the Sovereign God of the Universe.  Satan had no power in that hour of darkness unless it had first been given to him.  And yet even though their actions are in accordance with the providence of God, they still remain culpable in their actions.  They will still bear the responsibility of their sin.

Today as we consider the advancement of evil in the world, we should take comfort in the sovereignty of God.  That God has a plan.  And nothing that is happening in the world is outside of the sovereign plan of God.  Satan can do nothing against the church unless he first receives permission.  It may be a difficult thing for us to learn, it’s a difficult doctrine to accept.  It requires faith to believe that all things are working for the good of those who are called according to the purpose of God.  But as we look back on the history of what God did in the life and death of Jesus according to His divine plan, then we ought to have confidence  in the future.  We know that greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world.  (1 John 4:4)

Then in vs. 2 we see the plot of the priests and the scribes as part of the overall plan to kill Jesus. Luke 22:2 “The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people.”  The animosity of the chief priests and religious leaders had been becoming ever more apparent as Christ conducted His three year ministry on Earth.  At the beginning of His ministry they seemed to have a tacit acceptance for His ministry.  Sometimes they even invited Him to dinner.  They regularly attended His sermons.  Some feigned discipleship. But as Jesus’ preaching revealed their hypocrisy, their animosity and resentment grows. By this time that animosity has grown to a hatred which will culminate in murder.

The only thing that seems to be holding back their desire to murder Jesus is that they feared the people.  It’s interesting that they obviously don’t fear God.  They are much more concerned about popular opinion than they are about God’s opinion.  I believe the Bible indicates that they acted in full recognition that Jesus was the Messiah sent from God. No one had ever spoken with the wisdom that this man spoke with.  No one had ever performed the miracles that this man had performed.  But their hearts were hardened to the point that religion was merely a means to an end.  And the end that they were concerned about was money, power and prestige.  Their office provided  those things.  And Jesus threatened their privilege.  Twice now He had cleansed the temple, exposing their corrupt religious practices.  And they hated Him for it.  They hated Him so much that they were willing to commit murder.  They were willing to lie, to commit perjury, to buy witnesses, to hire a murderous mob. 

But we mustn’t delude ourselves into thinking that this is just the isolated actions of some very evil men.  We sometimes see evil expressed in some particular individuals or even in regimes such as Nazi Germany and we think that this type of evil is so much worse than what normal people are capable of.  But that is not the case.  Their murderous plan is simply the result of an animosity towards the truth.  When a preacher preaches the truth of God’s word, there are only two possible outcomes;  you either are convicted by the Spirit of Truth and confess and repent and accept it, or you reject the truth, reject the conviction of the Holy Spirit and harden your heart.  But that rejection of the truth always breeds animosity towards the truth and the preacher, and if unchecked,  animosity becomes hatred.  And hatred is a dangerous thing. Jesus equated hatred with murder.  It is a poison that pollutes the soul and causes corruption to spill out in evil actions which work contrary to the will of God.  In my experience, when someone rejects the truth, and they rebel it eventually evolves into hatred, and in that hatred they begin to work against  the church to try to destroy either the pastor or the church.  We must be careful how we respond to the preaching of the truth.  These priests rejected it and ended up killing the Son of God.

In vs. 3 we see the third aspect of the plan to murder Jesus, and that is the possession of Judas. Luke 22:3 “And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve.”   I believe Luke summarizes here in this statement a progression in the life of Judas that has actually gone on for quite some time.  I believe the Bible reveals that his possession by Satan was something that began small and grew to be all consuming.  Luke just summarizes that process here. 

But first of all, I want you to take special notice of the phrase, “one of the twelve.”  What a tragedy.  This man was part of Christ’s inner circle.  He had participated in some of the most spectacular things that have ever been witnessed on earth.  He had heard the greatest preacher of all time, had lived for three years with the perfect man, the Son of God.  And yet after all that, Satan comes in to him. 

I can’t help but ask myself how this came to be?  What happened to cause this man to go from discipleship to being demon possessed?  Judas was a man of great privilege. He had every opportunity.  Jesus had been so gracious to Him and yet Judas had followed Him with ulterior motives.  The Bible says that Judas held the bag. His motive was money, and he knew being treasurer in the new kingdom would pay off handsomely.  After all, Judas used to steal from the disciples money bag.  And you know what strikes me about that, is that Jesus obviously knew that Judas would betray Him, and He knew that Judas was stealing from them, but He never confronted Him. 

Yet just as the sin of the priests and religious leaders brought about animosity which escalated to outright hatred which culminated in murder, so Judas’ sin of the love of money, the love of this world, as it went unconfessed, unrepented of, opened up the door for Satan to come in.  It may have started small at first.  Perhaps it started as an irritation at how Jesus constantly preached against the love of money being the root of all evil.  A resentment towards Jesus’ preaching against the love of the world being at enmity with God.  That you could not love the world and love God.  And Judas’ resentment grew into hatred as well, because he dearly loved the world.  His only real interest in Jesus was in what he thought he might gain from his association with Jesus.  And when that prospect started to look dim, he decided to cash out.  He had opened up his heart to Satan a long time before, when he refused to repent of his sin.

Judas  represents those that have known the Lord, even followed the Lord, but with selfish motives.  Their motivation was what they could get out of it, what’s in it for me.  This evil motive is revealed by the willingness to sell Jesus out for money.  But the 30 pieces of silver that Judas sold out Jesus for is also a metaphor for whatever your price is or my price.  Unfortunately, all of us seem to have our price.  Maybe it’s money, but it may be fame or popularity or prestige, or social standing, or simply a good time. 

I think Judas is perhaps the most tragic personality in the Bible.  Judas is a classic illustration of all examples of lost opportunity. No one ever had greater opportunity and lost it. He is the ultimate example of wasted privilege. He is the supreme example of a false disciple who passes on the opportunity of a lifetime, who wastes his great privilege, for the trinkets of world.

But lest we get on a high horse and think ourselves so much better than Judas, lest we say like Peter, “though everyone else denies you, I will never deny you Lord…” yet sadly many of us today are somewhat the same. We are false disciples, willing to sell out the Lord for a few coins, or for pleasure, or for whatever passion we lust after.  If Christ had a Judas in His inner circle, then we should not be surprised when churches today are full of people like Judas. They feign loyalty to Christ. They sing about how much they love Jesus. They pretend to care but yet their actions reveal that they really don't care because they regularly sell out Jesus for anything else that seems more valuable at any moment to them.  And when they see that things aren’t going the way they thought it would and they're not getting out of Jesus what they thought He would provide, they will go for something else.  They betray Him with a kiss but there is no love there, just the emptiness of false affection.

Listen, Hollywood has deceived us into thinking of demon possession as something that looks hideous and frightening and that causes a person to act like some evil monster.  But the truth is that Satan gains control of his victims one little piece at a time.  And most often, he prefers to stay in disguise.  The Bible says that he disguises himself as an angel of light.  He disguises himself as spiritual, or religious.  He doesn’t like to be revealed for who he really is.  And so na├»ve people think that they are choosing a lesser form of the truth, a less restrictive version of the truth, and in reality they are embracing the false doctrines of Satan that takes root in their soul and starts to occupy their mind and control their will.  And they soon find themselves completely  under the control of Satan and they never really know it. 

2Tim. 2:25-26 says “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”  See, the captivity of Satan comes from an opposition to the truth, which results in them being held captive to do his will.  So the possession of Judas is not some special one time horrific event, but it is something that people everywhere even today must be on guard against.

Fourthly, though all the players are somehow participating in the sovereign plan of God, yet that does not excuse their participation in the plan to murder Christ.  The participation of wicked men is expressed in vs. 4-6. “And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them.  They were glad and agreed to give him money.  So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd.”

What these verses illustrate is Judas is not some sort of zombie now that Satan has entered him, and he is unable to think or act rationally.  Look at his actions, they indicate a rational mind; they indicate a willing participation  on his part.  He went to the chief priests, he discussed a plan to betray Jesus, he agrees on a plan, he consents to a fee, and he begins to seek an opportunity to betray Him.  Actually, his actions prove my point that he and the priests are fully culpable for their actions.  They knew full well what they were doing. 

See, the real fear is not some sort of possession that takes over and renders you senseless.  But satanic control happens as a result of a man or woman consensually giving themselves over to evil desires, to evil thinking and then disobedience.  And so their goals and ambitions reflect that of their master. 

Listen, Satan doesn’t create anything.  He just mimics what God does.  But he does so deceitfully.   The way you follow God and become a child of God is to believe God and obey God.  In the same manner, the way you become a child of the devil is you believe his lies, and you obey him.  The difference of course is that Satan is the father of lies; he offers you the world, offers you fame, fortune, happiness, but he can’t really provide any of it.  He can’t create.  He doesn’t have the power of life or death.  All he can do is try to thwart the plan of God to give you life, by getting you to chose death, all the time thinking that you are getting a better life.  He is a liar and a deceiver and a destroyer.

I think that the major thing we can learn from the life of Judas is that oftentimes the greatest danger to the church comes not from our external enemies, but from within the ranks of those seemingly chosen, our trusted friends.  People who ate with us, experienced so much with us. People trusted by us.  And yet their hearts have turned.  Satan has found a willing accomplice that will willingly help him to try to take down believers and overthrow the church.

There are three major ways that the devil is working today to attack the church.  And his schemes are not new, he’s been perfecting them since the beginning of time. 
Number one:  The devil destroys.  The Bible says that the consequences of sin is death.  Satan is working to destroy lives through addictions like drugs and alcohol, fornication, and every other type of sin that he knows has terrible consequences, in order to trap people in a vice that will lead to their death. 1Pe 5:8 “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
 Number two:  The devil deceives.  Satan is a deceiver.  He is a liar, and the father of lies.  Mat 24:11 "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.”  He offers  “a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. “ Prov. 14:12  You can’t trust your own wisdom.  “Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” Prov. 3:6
Number three:  The devil distracts.  With Christians, this may be the most effective strategy of Satan against the church.  They may not fall for an obvious temptation like adultery or drunkenness, but they don’t recognize the ploy of the devil to distract them from the task that God has called them to do.  They think it just circumstances that compel them to make this choice, or even more dangerous, they think it God’s will.  More Christians have turned aside to go down the wrong path because of misinterpreting Satan’s distraction for God’s will, when in fact, Satan has cleverly appealed to their pride. Gal 3:1 “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” Gal 3:3 “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Beware of that which appeals to the flesh. 1Jo 2:16 “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

I trust that no one here today has given themselves over to some sin, some rebellion that they are harboring in their heart.  I hope that all of us will live in the spirit of repentance as we are being cleansed and confronted with the truth of God’s word on a daily basis.  I pray that we will not just be hearers of the word, but doers of the word.  Jesus said, if you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  Let us commit to be obedient to the truth from the heart.  And as we do so we resist the devil by not being obedient to him.  As James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  Let’s pray.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

How to live in the last days; Luke 21: 28-38

 At the beginning of the hippie movement in 1965, a rock and roll band by the name of the Who wrote a song called, “My Generation” that helped define the age.  If you were part of that generation, then you knew at the time who the band was talking about.  It meant anyone younger than the age of thirty.  One of the most famous lines of the song was, “I hope I die before I get old.”  I guess thirty was considered old at that time.  But I doubt the band members feel the same way today.

But even though they had a sense of who comprised their generation, the lines became blurred as the hippies grew up and the movement expanded.  Today that generation is still around, having lived twice as long as they said they wanted to live. The point being, that the idea of a generation is kind of an indeterminate designation.  Though it is widely accepted that a generation is about 40 years, no one can say for sure when a generation begins and when it ends.  There are still people living today, for instance, who were part of the generation that lived through WW2. 

The point that I’m trying to make is that when Jesus uses the phrase “this generation” in vs. 32, we’re not really sure exactly what He means.  Because generation can mean people living during a general time period or it can mean people who are closely related in age.  My view, and one that I think is widely shared among Biblical scholars is that generation in this passage refers not to people closely related in age, but related by an age.  People living in a certain age, or an epoch, a time.

And that principle is born out by the question of the disciples which prompted this whole discourse.  It’s found in Matthew’s version, chapter 24, vs.3, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  As I pointed out last week when we looked at this, I think the key to understanding this passage is that there are three ages presented in the Bible.  There is the ancient age, from creation to the flood.  That age lasted 2000 years and came to an end with a world wide flood which destroyed all  life on earth except for those saved on the ark.  And then there was a second age, which was the Jewish age, from Abraham to the Apostles.  That age lasted for 2000 years as well and came to an end with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem and Israel.  Millions of Jews were massacred and the remainder dispersed, chased from one country to another, living without a homeland.  And the third age mentioned in chapter 21vs. 24 is the age of the Gentiles. We are living in the age of the Gentiles.  This age has lasted 2000 years as well.  It began with the trampling underfoot of Jerusalem by the Gentiles in 70AD and I believe it’s nearing the end as signaled by the Jews retaking Jerusalem in 1967 and living once again in the nation of Israel.  I believe that 6000 years of human history is fast approaching it’s climax, which is going to end with the destruction of the earth. 2Pet. 3:7  “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.”

Now with that understanding  it is possible to interpret this passage in a sort of sytematic way.  But let me say as a caveat, that the phrase “this generation” is the source of a great deal of debate in theological circles.  It has put at war various groups from differing camps within the eschatological debate that has been going on for almost a hundred years.  And I don’t intend to get involved in that war this morning.  I think it is impossible to be that dogmatic about a passage which obviously was intended to be somewhat obscure.  So rather than focus on different viewpoints of end time theology, I would like to focus our attention on the point of it all.  What was Jesus trying to say?  What message was He trying to convey during these last hours with His disciples?   I think that is what is important, and not trying to figure out the day or the hour of our Lord’s return, which Jesus says is not our privilege to know. In the parallel account in Mark 13:32 Jesus adds,  "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”

So what is the main point that Jesus is trying to make?  I believe that the context of this message, known as the Olivet Discourse, is a message concerning the end of the ages.  I believe that it is clear that Jesus is trying to warn His disciples about the impending judgment of Israel, and how they are to live in the last days.  They were living in the last days before the destruction of the temple, the last days of Israel as a nation, and the last days before there would be a great massacre and persecution of the Jews.  It happened within their generation.  It happened just as Jesus predicted within the next 40 years. 

And I believe Jesus message was intended as a warning for future generations as well.  We are living in the last days of the age of the Gentiles.  We are living in the last hours before the great tribulation, and in the last days before the judgment of God is poured out upon the earth.  So I believe that the message that Jesus gives here is a message which I have titled, “How to live in the last days.”

The way that I have decided to present this last section is to identify some key phrases or thoughts that are strung through these verses to give us something to hang onto as we consider how we are to live in the last days.  And here is what I have extracted from this passage as to how we are to live in the last days;  we need to straighten up, lift up, look up, keep our guard up, sober up, lighten up, wise up,  pray up, and listen up. 

Now let’s  look briefly at each of these.  The first is straighten up.  Jesus said in vs. 28, “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up…”  What things is Jesus talking about?  Well, it’s obvious that He’s talking about the persecution, the distressing signs in the heavens, the fear from natural catastrophes that will take place and so forth.  It stands to reason that in order to straighten up you must first have been bent over or knocked down. 

So although in these last days we may get knocked down, we don’t stay down.  I like how Paul talks about it in 2Cor. 4:7-11 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”  We can straighten up in the midst of tribulations or persecutions or hardships because we know that we have a higher calling, that there is a greater purpose to our suffering, so that  even in the midst of all of these trials we are manifesting Jesus Christ to the world.  That knowledge should make you straighten up.  Paul said in Phil. 3:10-11  “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  So straighten up. 

Secondly, Jesus says when these things begin to take place, lift up your heads.  Listen, when the world starts getting you down, you have to take your eyes off of the world. Take your eyes off your circumstances and lift up your eyes to heaven.  Psalm 121 says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” 

And I’m going to stretch that phrase to include lifting up one another. Gal. 6:2 “Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”  Listen, that is the purpose of the church, to bear one another’s burdens.  To help hold each other up.  To come to the aid of those that are hurting, or wounded.  Lift up one another.  Encourage the weak, the faint hearted.

Thirdly, look up.  Vs. 31 says, "So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.”  Jesus gave an illustration to help the disciples understand what He meant.  He said when you see a fig tree starting to bud then you know that summer is near. I don’t know about you, but I love summer.  Especially when I was a kid, but I feel like the older I get the more I like it as well. I just can’t stand winters anymore.  So every year, I used to eagerly watch for the trees to start to bud.  Because once I saw that happen, I knew that summer was near.

That’s what Jesus is talking about.  There is no mystical message about fig trees here.  It’s just when you see these things happening, be joyful.  Look up!  Jesus is coming back soon!  It’s almost time for the consummation of the Kingdom of God.  You know what He’s talking about?  He said in vs. 27 that the Son of Man will come in the clouds with power and great glory.  What He is saying is “Look up!”  “I’m coming back soon.”  Looking up means to live life with the expectancy of Jesus’ imminent return. 

Jesus could  come back today.  Folks, how differently would we live if we had a real expectation that Jesus could come back today?  Maybe early tomorrow morning.   What would you do differently if you really believed that?  I think one of the most poignant things that I have read was some transcripts of telephone calls from victims of the Twin Towers bombing.  As the buildings were going up in flames, as people were dying all around them and they knew death for them was imminent, those people made phone calls to their loved ones.  They wanted to take those last minutes to reach out to their families.  I think if we lived with the expectation of Christ returning in the clouds in judgment and power and glory with all His angels, I think we would get serious about reaching some of our loved ones with the gospel. I think we would make some phone calls.  I think we would visit some people.  I hope so.  I hope that when He comes He would find us about the business of the Kingdom of God. 

Fourthly, how do you live in the last days? Straighten up, lift up, look up, and fourthly, keep your guard up.  Jesus says in vs. 34, “Be on your guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.”  We need to live in these last days on guard against the schemes of the devil.  We need to guard our hearts and minds against temptation.  Peter said in 1Pet. 5:8 “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 
Listen, make no mistake.  You are living in enemy territory.  The devil is your mortal enemy.  He wants to distract you, capture you, trap you in some sin, and ultimately to destroy you.  So be on guard.  Be vigilant.  Keep close watch over your souls.

Fifthly, sober up. “Be on your guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness…”  Listen, I’m not going to try to tell you that you can’t have a beer or a drink and be a Christian.  But I am going to tell you this: the Bible makes it clear that we are to be sober.  We are living in the last days.  We are living in a critical time.  Our enemy is fighting  harder than ever, knowing that his days are short.  And so God tells us 8 times in the NT to be sober.  That means circumspect, calm, collected, using sound judgment at all times.  We already saw that we are to be on guard.  Do you think soldiers on guard should drink? Obviously not. 

Peter said in 1Pet. 4:3 “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.”  Dissipation, by the way, means wasting your resources, squandering money, talents or resources by living for pleasure.  Dissipation is wasting the grace of God by living for pleasure.  That is not why Jesus bought us with His blood.  Our freedom is not for licentiousness.  We need to sober up. 

Sixthly, we need to lighten up. “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life…”  The worries of life.  I’ve said it before many times, some things aren’t necessarily sins in and of themselves, but they are weights which hinder us and slow us down. Heb. 12:1 says,  “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”   What weights are keeping you from running the race to the fullest?  What weight is holding you back from really living fully for the Lord in these last days?  It may not be a sin in and of itself, but if it’s keeping you from living out God’s purpose in your life then you need to get rid of it.  Lay it aside.  You’re running a race.  You’re almost at the finish line, and some of you are trying to run with a lot of baggage that is slowing you down. 

Jesus gave the familiar parable of the soils in Luke 8:14.  He said, "The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”  Lighten up, let go of the worries, riches and pleasures of the world so that you might bring forth fruit.

Seventh, we need to wise up. “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.”  Did you ever set a trap?  I trapped once or twice when I was a boy.  My dad always warned me to be careful because I could lose a finger setting the trap.  The spring was so powerful and the jaws of the trap slammed shut so fast that it was very dangerous. 

Jesus likens the last day, the day of judgment coming like the jaws of a steel trap, slamming shut the door before you can react.  Jesus said that His coming will be like the lightning flashing in the evening sky, lighting up the sky from one end to the other in an instant, in a blinding flash.  Jesus said in Matthew 24 that He is coming at an hour that you do not expect.  Peter said He is coming like a thief.  It won’t be announced.  Jesus talked about the sudden destruction that is coming.  The trap is that those people who have succumbed to the allure of this world, to dissipation and drunkenness and drugs and debauchery will suddenly find themselves mourning at the sudden appearance of Christ in glory.  Wise up. Don’t be caught outside the door.

Eighth, how do you live in the last days?  Pray up.  Vs. 36, "But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."  Listen, you won’t be able to stand in that day if you are not leaning on the strength that God supplies.  We need to be prayed up if we expect to be able to stand up in the last days.  Ephesians 6 is the chapter which describes  the armor of God.  And in all the armor we have only two pieces of equipment that are offensive, that are weapons.  One is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  And the second is prayer. 

Eph. 6:18 says,  “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” To live in these last days we need to pray all the times in the Spirit.  We need to be praying for one another all the time.  We need to pray for our children all the time.  We need to pray for our wives or husbands all the time.  Paul said in the next verse to especially pray for him that he would be given the words to say.  We need to pray for our pastor all the time. 

Listen, I don’t dare think that I am holier or more righteous than any of you simply because I am a pastor.  I’m just like you are.  I bleed, I get sick, I get disappointed, I get tired, I even get backslidden sometimes.  But one thing I think I do have that perhaps you don’t have.  And that is I am the subject to a special strategy of Satan due to my position to destroy me, to destroy my family, to destroy my testimony, to tempt me to be unfaithful to the gospel. I know my weaknesses, and I know how hard Satan is trying to defeat me.  Because if he can cut off the head, he can kill the body.  I covet your prayers.  We need to pray up.

Finally, number 9, we need to listen up. Listen up. Vs. 37 “Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet. And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him.”  You want to stand firm in the last days?  Then attend to the teaching of God’s word.  Don’t neglect coming to church.  Don’t neglect coming to Bible study.  The word of God is truth.  The word of God is life.  The word of God is eternal. Jesus said in vs. 33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” The word of God is our strength.  The word of God is our comfort.  The word of God is sufficient for every need. 2Tim. 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;  so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  You could translate it better, “so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 

Listen, I am all for private devotions.  I think everyone should have a quiet time and study the word of God on their own.  But I want to impress on you the necessity of corporate worship.  But it’s not just a time to get together and listen to a speech and maybe hear some songs.  But God has called preachers to teach the word, to rebuke, to convict, to encourage in ways that don’t always come out of your personal Bible study.  When we study our Bibles we tend to gloss over some areas and dwell on others that happen to appeal to our interests at the moment.  But a God called preacher is going to preach the word of God in such a way that will exhort you to action, that will convict you of sin, and build up the weaker elements of the body. 

Paul exhorted a young preacher by the name of Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”  I’m afraid that time has come.  It is the last days, and such a great deception has occurred that if possible even the very elect would be deceived.  False prophets have risen.  Church’s lamps have gone out.  Christian’s love has grown cold.  And people have turned away from the truth and turned aside to teachers that tickle their ears with stories and jokes and nice sounding platitudes. 

If you are going to live in these last days for the Lord, then you need to come together with the body of Christ and strengthen one another, fellowship with one another, and submit to the preaching of the truth of God’s word from a pastor who has been appointed and annointed to preach the gospel. 

Well, there you have it.  We are living in the last days.  Christ is coming back soon.  It could be today.  Maybe tomorrow morning.  Let’s live like it’s our last day on earth.  Let’s be ready when Jesus appears like lightning in the clouds, with all the angels of God with Him.  On that day, the whole earth will be shaken, and every eye will see Him, and all who have not trusted in Him will mourn.  Let us be ready.  Let’s pray.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The end of the age, Luke 21:8-28

It seems to be a characteristic of the human condition that people are more interested in knowing the future than knowing the past.  People might line up at a carnival in front of a fortune teller’s tent, but not many would line up for a show about ancient history.  Yet there is an old adage which should be very familiar to all of us; “those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” 

Actually, I learned while researching that quote that the original statement was made by a philosopher named George Santayana, and it goes like this: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  I didn’t remember that, but I think the sentiment is the same.  Those that don’t learn from the past, or can’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it. 

Today we are looking at a passage of scripture which we call predictive prophecy which has two parts to it, a part that is past, that is, it’s been fulfilled, and that which is yet future.  We should be able to learn from past prophecies that have been fulfilled. Predictive prophecy though means that means something that is predicted to happen in the future.  Not all prophecy is predictive.  Not all prophets tell the future, or prophesy about future events.  Being a prophet of God means first of all that one speaks forth the truth of God.  In that sense I might be considered a prophet, or to have the gift of prophecy or engage in the act of prophecy.  But predictive prophecy is another facet of prophecy that isn’t necessarily given to all prophets.  I don’t have the gift of predictive prophecy, and I don’t think it is a gift that is given today. I believe it was given to Christ and to His apostles as sign gifts.

By the way, there is an interesting injunction given in the Bible in regards to those that prophesy in a predictive manner.  There is no room given for error.  If one errs in their predictive prophecy, if the event that they speak of does not come to pass,  the Bible says that such a one is not actually a prophet of God at all, and should be stoned to death.  Now that is an OT injunction, and unfortunately in those cases we are no longer under the law.  I think it would clear the air significantly if we were able to practice stoning false prophets according to that standard today.  Because there are a great deal of false prophets masquerading in the church, pretending to be able to tell future events, and they are offering a false doctrine that leads people astray.  And yet their prophecies are consistently wrong, and naive people continue to follow them.

In this passage we are looking at today, known as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus is speaking predictive prophecy.  And as such, it is one of the most amazing prophesies that has ever been recorded.  Because we have the great advantage today of seeing a large portion of this prophecy as having been fulfilled.  That fulfillment should serve to bolster our faith.  And it should also serve as a warning to those that are unwilling to learn from the past, that they are doomed to repeat it.  Because I believe that there are two major parts to this prophecy, one that has been fulfilled, and one part that is yet to come.  And if we don’t learn from the one which has past, then we are going to be condemned to repeat a similar judgment  when the one comes in the future.

Now I will say at the outset that I go into this passage with some hesitancy.  To use another famous quote, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  I don’t want to make foolish assumptions in exegeting this prophecy.  Jesus said that angels long to look into the things which are to come, but of the day and hour only God knows.  Paul referred to the end time as a mystery.  Jesus said in Acts 1:7 “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in his own power.”  So I don’t want to presume to know too much.  Many, many men a whole lot smarter than I am have spent years studying these texts in search of the correct interpretation of this passage.  And yet there is still a great debate in theological circles regarding how to correctly interpret this prophecy. 

My view, and I think a number of conservative theologian’s view, is that it is a two part prophecy as I indicated.  One part has been fulfilled, and yet perhaps  has overtones for events still to come.  And one part is unfulfilled, and is still in the future.  Unfortunately, even though many theologians may agree with that statement, that doesn’t solve every problem.  There is still plenty of room for disagreement even within those parameters. 

So I tread lightly in eschatological debates, and I tend to focus on what is clearly presented rather than focus on those things which are purposefully presented as vague or indeterminate.  I believe that if God wanted us to know everything that was going to happen in sequential order then He would have easily done so.  One thing I have learned from a verse by verse preaching of Matthew and Luke for over 5 years combined is that Jesus Himself was deliberately vague on many occasions.  And Scripture, especially predictive prophecy, is often deliberately vague. It’s often written in allegorical, figurative language.  I don’t know why.  God has His reasons.  So I will focus on what I can be clearly understood and trust Him with what I cannot understand. 

Now all of this Discourse stems from the questions asked by the disciples after Jesus announced that the temple would one day be destroyed and not one stone left upon another.  They asked in vs. 7, "Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?" 

Now to help understand this passage, you need to look also at the parallel accounts found in Matthew and Mark’s gospels.  Each of them includes or leaves out certain details of Jesus’ message that others include as they present their portraits of Christ.  So to get the complete picture, you need to look at all three.  Matthew adds an important element to their initial question in Matthew 24.  He adds, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

That phrase “end of the age” is important.  Unfortunately the KJV uses the phrase, “end of the world.”  But the Greek word for world is cosmos, and the word for age or epoch is ion.  So the correct translation is not world, but the end of the age.  And that distinction helps us to get a better handle on how to understand what Jesus was talking about. 

The key though comes in considering the context which prompted their question.  What prompted their question was Jesus statement in vs. 6 that the temple would be destroyed.  Their question follows that statement by saying, “when therefore will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?  That’s the context for Jesus’ answer.  So it’s a mistake to start interpreting these comments according to some eschatological format without keeping in mind the question that Jesus is responding to.  He is responding what sign will be given when the temple is going to be destroyed.  And then in addition, He will respond to the other question tacked on to that in Matthew’s version which is “and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”  So there are two questions, and so Jesus gives two answers. 

The first answer to the question regarding the destruction of the temple is found in verses 8-24.  The answer to the second question regarding His coming and the end of the age is found in verses 25 -36.  Now another key to help us understand this is found in vs. 24 which says concerning the Jews, “and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” 

So because of time constraints this morning I am going to give you the Cliff notes version of interpretation, which is that there are 3 ages presented in the Bible.  There was the ancient age, the time before Noah up until the flood.  That lasted approximately 2000 years.  Then there was the age of the Jews starting with Abraham up to the time of Christ.  That was approximately another 2000 years.  And then as indicated in vs. 24, there is the age of the Gentiles, which has lasted about another 2000 years.  I happen to believe that the end of the age of the Gentiles is very soon.  Perhaps in our lifetime.  Six thousand years have past, and three ages have been instituted and are now drawing to a close.  And I believe the coming seventh millennium symbolizes the time when Christ will come back and rule the world, as a new heaven and new earth, for eternity.  It is the eternal rest that was promised by the symbol of the Sabbath, the seventh day. 

So the ancient age ended with destruction of all human flesh.  It ended with the flood.  Then after that God instituted a second age; the age of the Jews which started with a promise to a Abraham that he would have a son, and that from his seed would come a nation, and from that seed would come one from whom the whole world would be blessed.  That second age, the age of the Jews would also come to an end, just as the first did.  The ancient age was evil, they rejected God, they co-married with demons, they were exceedingly wicked, and so God brought judgment upon the whole earth save 8 persons. 

And the second age of the Jews was evil as well.  So Jesus predicts the judgment upon the age of the Jews.  He prefaces it by saying that the temple, which was the center of Judaism, the center of Israel in the capital city of Israel, Jerusalem would be destroyed.  And so up through vs. 24 Jesus is describing the judgment upon the temple, Jerusalem, and the Jews because they rejected the manifestation of the  Son of God and put Him to death.  History tells us that this judgment happened just as Jesus predicted just about 38 years after His death, in 70AD. 

Then in vs. 25 through 36, Jesus predicts the future judgment upon the world, all the nations, which is categorized as the end of the age of the Gentiles.  In this last judgment, Peter says that the world at that time will be judged by fire. 2Pet. 3:3-13 “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.’  For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water,  through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  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.”

Now that’s the overview.  Let’s look then at some of the details of the judgment of each of the last two ages.  As Jesus begins in vs. 8, He is addressing particularly the 12 disciples who are with Him on the Mount of Olives a couple of nights before His crucifixion.  He primarily wants to prepare them for what is going to happen after He is crucified.  And so He begins by saying, “Don’t be misled. Don’t be fooled by people running around claiming that I have returned.  Or that the end of the world is at hand.  Beware of false teachers who will come after My death and try to mislead you.” 

And Jesus is rightly concerned because He knows that it is going to be a long time before He returns in power.  He knows a lot of things are going to happen which are going to rock the faith of the church.  He says in vs. 9 that there are going to be a lot of wars and disturbances, but not to be terrified by that, because the end does not follow immediately. It’s going to be a long time.  Rome would go through tremendous political upheaval in the next 35 years or so.  Emperors would be assassinated one after another sometimes within the space of just three months.

But remember, though this might sound like He is talking about events today, He is actually addressing their question regarding the destruction of the temple. He goes on to say that nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes and plages and famines and terrors and great signs from heaven.  Again, that sounds like something out of Revelation that we would ascribe to modern day events.  But vs. 12 makes it clear that He is still speaking to the disciples in regards to the destruction of the temple and the end of the Jewish age.

And historians tell us that many of those things did happen prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.  For instance, there were comets that were seen in the sky such as Haley’s comet during the reign of Nero that caused great concern among the people of that day.  There were famines.  There were earthquakes and there were many uprisings and wars.

However, if you flip back over to Matthew’s version and look at vs. 8 you will see that Jesus adds, “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.”  There is still a ways to go before the end of the Jewish age. 

But in vs. 12 once again Jesus turns His attention back to His disciples.  He wants to prepare them for what they are going to suffer for His name.  You can almost put parenthesis around vs. 12 through 19.  This is His message of assurance to His disciples in particular.  It is not a blanket statement for all Christians.  It is spoken specifically and was specifically fulfilled with the apostles and His immediate disciples. Vs.12 "But before all these things, (before the destruction of the temple) they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake.  It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Now a reading of the book of Acts will show you that the disciples did in fact suffer those things. We know that all of the apostles lost their lives as a martyr except for John.  Many other disciples were executed as well, such as Stephen and James.  But we need to understand that Jesus is using an expression that not a hair of their head will perish as a metaphor which is underscored by the next line, which is by your endurance you will gain or save your souls.  In other words, though they may lose their life here on earth, they will never die, but they will be saved, secured in the presence of God.  In a sense, they will not lose even a hair of their head, even though some would have their head cut off, because their soul was preserved complete through Christ. But you can put a parenthesis around all of that because He clarifies it in vs. 12 by saying that “before all these things”, these things being the destruction of the temple, you will be arrested and persecuted and some of you killed.

Now back to Jesus description of the judgment of Jerusalem.  He says in vs.20 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city;  because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people;  and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” 

What is really interesting in this prophecy is that Jesus warns His followers not to do what was the normal thing to do when a foreign army comes upon a city.  They lived in or around walled cities which served as fortifications in times of war.  The people that lived in the open or on the outskirts of town would flee to the city and they would close the gates against the invaders.  And so the attacking army would besiege the town, many times for months until the town ran out of food and surrendered or overrun.  The Romans developed a lot of specialized equipment for this type of warfare such as battering rams and catapults that would hurl huge boulders into the walls to try to break down the walls or gates.  But Jesus warns His disciples to not seek shelter in the city.  He warns them that when the city is about to be surrounded by armies, flee instead to the mountains and get out of the city, because the vengeance of God is coming upon Jerusalem.  All God’s prophecies of judgment against rebellious Israel will be coming down on them.  And so Jesus warns His people to flee the city.

History records that this is exactly what happened.  But though a few Christian Jews escaped Jerusalem, most of the other Jews acted as was their custom.  They ran to Jerusalem.  And when the Romans under General Titus in 70AD finally broke through the walls and overran the city as Jesus had prophesied, 1.1 million Jews were massacred.  Those that survived were scattered across the Middle East.  They were taken captive.  They were hunted from one nation to another.  They lost their homeland.  They lost their temple.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote in detail concerning the siege of Jerusalem.  He wrote of the hardships of the long siege and the famine within the city that led to cannibalism among some of it’s inhabitants.  And he wrote of how the marauding Roman soldiers set fire to the temple, and the gold plates that covered the outer walls melted and the gold ran down into the crevices between the stones.  So the soldiers pried the stones apart in order to get at the gold.  As Jesus had prophesied, not one stone was  left upon another.  The Jewish temple was destroyed.  The sacrifices ceased.  The priesthood dissolved as the Israelites suffered for 2000 years in the dispersion.  And as of 70 AD, the city of Jerusalem was trampled underfoot by the Gentiles for almost 2000 years.

The most amazing thing concerning this prophecy is that in our lifetime we have seen the Jews return to the land of Israel in 1948.  Then after the 6 day war in 1967, the Jews retook half of the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus said that the time of the Gentiles would begin with the trampling underfoot of Jerusalem.  So it would stand to reason that the end of the age of the Gentiles comes with the Jews coming back into the city of Jerusalem.  We could argue that the Jews do not have complete control of it yet, but the fact that they are there after being scattered around the world for 2000 years is a fulfillment of prophecy that is simply astonishing.  I believe it indicates that the age of the Gentiles is about to come to a close.

And in that regard, let’s look quickly at the end of the age of the Gentiles.  I believe that starts being described for us in vs. 25.  But once again, we are well served by Matthew’s version which helps us to see that there is a transition in the prophecy.  Jesus is giving us a telescopic view which goes from the end of the age of the Jews to the end of the age of the Gentiles, or nations. We see the mountain ranges of the prophecy, but it’s not clear due to the telescopic nature of the prophecy the intervening time between the events.  Matt. 24:21 "For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” 

Now here we see similar language as that which Jesus warned would be happening at the end of the age of the Jews.  False prophets misleading people would arise.  It happened after Jesus was crucified during the time of the apostles.  And  2000 years later it will be characteristic of the end of the age of the Gentiles.  You definitely get the sense that this time there is an escalation of what happened earlier.  That is why I said we must learn from the past in order to keep from making the same mistakes in the future.  Because now Jesus says the deception is going to be so complete that if possible even the very elect would be deceived by their signs and wonders. 

By the way, there is a fast growing church denomination in the Charismatic movement today that has heralded the fact that they will be known by their signs and wonders. They use that exact language.  It’s called the Vineyard and they are really growing on the west coast.  I wonder if they have considered what Jesus said here concerning those that mislead by performing signs and wonders as being a characteristic of false prophets.  I hope none of you will be misled by such things.

So back in our text in Luke Jesus says this coming judgment at the end of the age of the Gentiles will not only be characterized by false doctrines and deception, but in vs. 25, "There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves,  men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory.”  Matthew adds to that  in Matt. 24:29-31 "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. 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. 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.”

So the end of the age of the Gentiles will also be the end of the ages. A great tribulation will precede Jesus coming back suddenly in the clouds, with a loud trumpet.  And the dead in Christ will be resurrected first from the grave and we that are alive will then be caught up to be with the Lord. We are living in the last days.  Jesus is coming back soon.  Every eye will see Him, and those that rejected Him will mourn. 

But there are some here that I’m sure are thinking that it’s been 2000 years since Jesus lived, and things continue just as they always have.  They see the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem and it doesn’t faze them.  They see the miracle of the  Jews go back into Israel after 2000 years and it doesn’t faze them.  They see the rise of false doctrines and the escalation of wickedness on the earth and it doesn’t faze them. They continue on with their lives eating and drinking and living like they want, just as the people did during the age of Noah, in the days before the flood.   For those of you that think that way I will remind you of Peter’s words, written 2000 years ago in 2 Peter 3:8, “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. 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. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,  looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

Jesus said back in our text in Luke, “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Folks, the end of the ages is at hand.  The gospel of Christ has been preached to all the  nations.  God has been more than patient, not wanting any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. Today is the acceptable day of salvation.  Christ is coming back.  He is coming with judgment upon the wicked, upon the rebellious, upon the unbelievers. Those that have rejected His rule over their lives He will cast into outer darkness into the Lake of Fire.  This earth and all it’s works will be destroyed by fire.  But those that have suffered here, waiting in faith for the Lord’s return will be saved.  They will be preserved forever.  Not a hair of their head will be harmed as God will preserve their soul.  So when you look around you Christian, and you are hated by everyone because of His name, and you are persecuted, and you are bent over under the burden of tribulations, listen to these words!  Straighten up!  Lift up your heads!  Because your redemption is drawing near!  Jesus is right at the door.  He is coming soon.   Amen.