Vol. IX — No. 51 December 22, 1968
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your ownselves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
In Christ Jesus, who shall come again and who accordingly urges us to be ever on the watch, Fellow Redeemed:
The message of the Church on this, the second Sunday in Advent, parallels the message that the Church proclaims on the last Sundays of the Trinity Season. You will recall that on the last two Sundays that brought the church year to a conclusion we considered the parable of The Ten Virgins which urges all disciples of the Lord to take care that they are alive spiritually and so prepared for the unknown hour when the Bridegroom shall come. we also considered the parable of The Sheep and the Goats in which our Lord unfolds the judgment scene before the eyes of His followers.
Our text for this morning brings us the concluding section of our Lord’s Olivet address, which is the only major address of our Lord recorded by three evangelists. It was spoken on the last great day of our Lord’s public ministry, on the Tuesday of Holy Week, after He had left the temple for the last time. Matthew 23 brings our Lord’s scathing exposure of the religious leaders of the Jews as hypocrites. It concludes with the prophecy that the wrath of God shall be poured out upon that generation because of their rejection of Israel’s Messiah. Our Lord was not vindictive, but sorrowful. He had tried so hard, but the refused to hear and heed Him. With heart-rending pathos our Lord poured out His soul, saying: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Then follow those fatal words of judgment: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Judgment would fall upon the nation, upon the city and upon the temple because they would not! Then our Lord pointed to the future: “For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Matt. 23:37-39. Jesus spoke of two things, of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and nation and also of His coming again.
It was concerning these two things that His disciples inquired as they sat upon the Mount of Olives overlooking the city: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Matthew 24:3. Jesus answered that double question in His Olivet address, giving them a definite sign that would alert them when Jerusalem was about to be destroyed, but telling them that His return again would be sudden and unexpected—as the coming of the waters of the flood and the falling of fire upon Sodom and Gomorrha. In view of this His disciples are always to be watching. In our portion of the Oiivet address the certainty and unexpectedness of His coming again stand out and can be sumnarized by a word of our Lord in the text and by another recorded in the final verses of the Bible:
“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts Failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” How are we to understand these signs in the sun and moon and stars? Literally or figuratively? If there are to be natural signs in the great heavenly bodies preceding the return of our Lord, all the world would know about that almost instantaneously. Then the Lord’s return would not be as a thief in the night. What would be a figurative understanding of these signs? Recall that already in the dream of Joseph the sun and the moon and stars symbolized his father, mother and brothers. So the heavenly lights have been used as symbols of powerful personages in the political skies. The prophets make use of these symbols and figures when they speak of the sun being darkened and the moon being turned into blood. They are speaking of great disturbances in the political area of man’s life. This understanding is reinforced when the Lord continues by speaking of distress of nations on earth. Then he follows with another figure, that of the sea and waves roaring. The figure of the restless seas is used in Revelation for teh turbulent masses of mankind striving against one another. All of this will cause men’s hearts to fail in fear, for the powers of heaven are being shaken. Scripture speak of all governmental authority and power as emanating from God. When God shakes up these powers, there are violent disturbances among men, wars and rumors of wars, that cause men to fear.
Our Lord is telling us that the entire era from the destruction of the Jewish State by the Romans in 70 A.D. till His return again will be characterized by a constant change and succession of empires and dynasties. In brief the conflicts caused by the curse of Babel when God set nation against nation, will continue till the end of time. Wars and rumors of wars, rise to power and fall from power, setting up authority and rebellion against authority will continue till the end of time. We’re in the midst of it now. The modern present day wave of rebellion against all authority causes many thoughtful people to fear for society and civilization itself. The possibility of thermonuclear war cause men’s hearts to fail. Even our undeclared war in Vietnam produces the same reactions. This is the world we live in. It will never change, only for the worse, as the end draws nigh.
How shall we conduct ourselves? Calmly and hopefully. Amidst war and rumor of war, disorder and violence in all segments of society we wait for the day when we shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. The worse things become here on earth the more we look up for our final redemption draws near.
The Lord shall come again; we are to be ever on the watch—
The Olivet address of our Lord gives a panoramic view of all history from the time of our Lord till the day of His gaming again. He spoke of the forty years before the fall of Jerusalem, and He spoke of the ages thereafter. He told two parables, one pointed as a warning for the time before the destruction of Jerusalem and the other as a warning for the unknown hour of His return. The parable of the fig tree carries us back to the forty year probation period for Israel after the Lord’s death on the cross. Jesus said, Behold, the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now high at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. It was spring. The fig tree was about to burst forth with leaves. When this happens, everyone knows that summer is nigh. So they should watch for the sign that the Lord had given them. He had told them that they would see “the abomination of desolation” stand in the holy place. That figure taken from the prophet Daniel is explained by Luke as being the Roman armies approaching Jerusalem on the soil of God’s chosen people. When they saw that, they were to flee for their lives. The church historian, Eusebius, tells us that the Christians living in Jerusalem did just that. While the Roman armies, with their pagan insignia, were laying Galilee waste, the Christians fled from Jerusalem and took refuge in Pella, east of the Jordan. They watched and read the sign aright and eseaped from the destruction of the city. With an “Amen” of certainty the Lord assured His disciples that everything that He had foretold would come upon that generation, for His words stand surer and firmer than heaven and earth. As we look back over the perspective of twenty centuries, we see that it all did happen as the Lord said it would.
As this point the Lord again takes up the are before His return to earth. He will surely come again, as He promised. What is to be the stance of all believers of every age? This—
Here is the Lord’s admonition: “And take heed to yourselves, last at any time your hearts he overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, aad so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”
The Lord spoke these words to His disciples, not to slaves of sin. He warns them not to permit their hearts to be weighted down by drunken nausea and excessive drinking. Drinking to excess is perhaps the most popular way that men of this world try both to celebrate and to escape from the facts and realities of life. Think of how many will celebrate the Christmas season again this year. The traditional Christmas parties at the office and the New Year’s Eve parties become an occasion and an excuse for drunkenness. Many of those who will be celebrating in this manner will lose their lives in traffic and other accidents. They will hardly be prepared to stand before the Son of man in the moment of death. The Lord warned His disciples and He warns us today not to fall victim of this same thing. A drunken person is unaware of what is going on. If we let ourselves go at some wild party or celebration, the day of the Lord may come upon us unawares. Be watchful, our Lord exhorts.
The Lord also warns against being weighted down with “the cares of this life.” This is a very real danger. During the next weeks we shall be burdened with the cares and worries of all the preparations for Christmas—sending out cards, purchasing gifts, trying not to forget anyone, attending services, parties, programs, family reunions, and so on and on. It’s run, run, run. Do this and don’t forget that. It means longer hours, less sleep, more susceptibility to illness, shorter tempers, and so on and on. Put it all together and you have the cares of this world.
Most people are so weighted down with all these things that they just don’t have time to attend Sunday School and Worship Services, to read their Bibles, to meditate upon how God carried out His plan of salvation for man. For such the day of our Lord’s coming shall be as a snare. It shall catch them unprepared. Then it will be too late to repent, to take time for one’s soul, to find time for the Lord. All the cries and pleas for a second chance will go unheard. Millions upon millions will be caught in this way, unprepared and so doomed.
The Lord warns us, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always.” Let none of us be too busy to watch—to watch out for our spiritual welfare by hearing and heeding the call to daily repentance and daily renewal of faith in the Savior. Let none of us become so busy that we have no time to pray—to pray for daily forgiveness, to pray for deliverance from all evil, also the evil of being unprepared for the Lord’s coming. Watch and pray, pray and watch! Why? So that we may stand before the Son of man when He comes. Let us nourish our faith with the prophecies of old that found their fulfillment in the coming of the Christchild. Let us meditate upon His name, JESUS, for He has saved us from our sins. Let us join with the angelic chorus in singing His praises. Let us join the shepherds in making known His name abroad. So shall we ever be ready to stand before Him! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.