Twenty-second Sunday in Trinity November 19, 2000
16, 609, 608, 47
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Dear Fellow Christians, Dear Fellow Redeemed:
Things in life don’t last forever. The sweet, carefree days of childhood end, never to return again. The exciting, magical years of high school end, and soon become nothing but a distant memory. The hectic, joyful years of raising children come to an end. Our working days come to an end and give way to the years of retirement. Relationships with people end, as they move away, or die. Like a book, there’s a last page to every chapter in life. Sometimes we’re ready and prepared for these endings, sometimes we’re not. Sometimes even though we know they’re coming, they take us by surprise, and we just don’t deal with them very well.
God’s Word this morning wants us to think about the ending of all endings. This morning it draws our attention to the fact that the earth itself will not last forever. There will be a last chapter, a last page to its history. The Bible tells us how it will all end: In 2 Peter we read: “But the day of the LORD will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up”—2 Peter 3:10
Certainly we don’t want the day world ends to take us by surprise. We want to be ready to meet our Maker when the last day dawns. With the words of our text today …
To be ready for the end, Jesus says we need to learn how to read. We must, first of all, learn how to read the signs which indicate that the earth’s heading toward its last day. Jesus prepares us for the end by teaching us how to read the end time signs. He teaches us that we can see the signs by simply taking the time to observe what’s happening in the world. Whenever we read the newspaper, or watch the TV news, we are being given more than just news worthy information. The reports we hear reveal to us that this world is coming to an end can be observed in our world today.
Jesus lists many signs of the end times. His list could be divided into three categories: 1) turmoil in nature 2) turmoil between nations 3) turmoil within the Church
Do we see turmoil in nature? All the time? Earthquakes are fairly common occurrences. California has been hit by two fairly big quakes within the last ten years. It seems famines are reported in places like Ethiopia and Somalia and other African countries almost every year. Other disturbances include hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions and forest fires. Read the signs Jesus says. Be prepared! Those things should tell you the end is coming.
How about turmoil between nations? Are there any signs of that? Are there wars? Are there any rumors of wars? You bet! Right now the Middle East seems on the brink of a major war. The Balkans continue to be a hot spot of conflict. Civil wars are raging in several countries in Africa. The signs are there! The world is pressing on to its last day.
How about turmoil in the church. Do we see any of the signs Jesus mentions regarding turmoil in the church? Well, are there any who claim to be Christ? Yes, there’s Jim Jones and David Koresh, just to name a few. Are there false prophets and false religions deceiving people? Yes, again. There’s the Satanic religions of Mormonism and Jehovah Witnesses, not to mention the many Christian churches which have drifted away from the clear teachings of Scripture. Are Christians being persecuted for their faith? All over the world! In many Muslim countries its illegal for Christians to gather together for worship. In most communist countries Christianity is still an outlawed religion. In our own country the beliefs of Christians are ridiculed and attacked by the press and in public universities and schools.
Is the love of Christians growing cold toward Christ and His Word. Who can deny it? We see it all the time: people who have no time to hear the Gospel, people who once confessed their Christian faith but who have now all but deserted their Savior. Read the signs. They’re there! They tell us the world is headed for destruction!
Yet some might say: But these signs are not unique to our day and age. There have always been natural disasters. The world has always been plagued by wars. The church has always been attacked and infiltrated by false prophets. This is true.—And the reason these signs are present in every age is because Jesus wants each generation to feel a sense of urgency. When we have no sense of urgency we tend to become consumed with the things of this world. We devote ourselves to the pursuit of earthly prosperity and worldly happiness and do not make Christ and His salvation our top concern. Jesus wants us to read the signs and see that the end could come at any moment. The signs tell us to be ready all the time, for no man can predict when the last day will arrive.
But while we don’t know the exact year or day the end will come, Jesus does indicate that the closer the world gets to the end, the worse things will get! Notice in verse eight he says: these are the beginning of birth pains. The turmoil in nature, in the world, and in the church are the beginning of this world’s birth pains. Any woman who has given birth will tell you that the labor pains become more regular and more intense the closer to the time of delivery. Jesus uses the illustration to teach us that all these signs He’s been talking about will become more regular and more intense the closer it gets to the end. We might think the world is in bad shape now, but things are going to get worse!
Why does Jesus want us to know that things will only get worse for Christians? One reason is so that when it happens we will not be tempted to wonder if He’s lost control of the world. Another and more important reason is that He wants us to remember that the worse things get, the closer it will be to the day when we’ll enter heaven! As the old cliché goes: the darkest hour is just before dawn. Or going back to the comparison of a woman in labor Jesus once said: “A woman, when she in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remember the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”
Jesus prepares us for the end by teaching us how to read the end time signs. But He also prepares us by telling Us to Stand Firm until the End. He says: “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
But how can we stand firm in the face of our many weaknesses? We are so sinful and so easily led astray. How can we stand firm in the face of such intense opposition to our faith? Everyday we are tempted by the idea that we should focus all our time and energy in this world. How can we stand firm when Satan stalks us as prey everyday? We are no match for His wiles and cunning.
A news report once showed a rescue device used on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. In case of emergency—usually a fire—rig workers scramble into a bullet shaped floatation module. When the entry port is shut, the vehicle is released down a chute and projected away from the rig. The capsule bobs in the sea until the rescuers come to pick it up. Even though the rig may topple into the sea those aboard are safe.
By ourselves we could never remain ready for the last day. But we are not by ourselves! We have Jesus to keep our faith safe until the end. Though the world may be toppling all around us we are safe as long as we are surrounded by Jesus’ love. Even though things may continue to get worse for us Christians, nothing can sink us as long as our faith is in Jesus.
When Jesus bids us to stand firm in the faith, he is reminding us how desperately we need Him to be a part of our lives. How we need to hear His Word all the time. How we regularly need to receive His true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and for the strengthening of our faith. We need Jesus! Only with Him can we stand before God on the last day. Only His perfect life and shed blood can hide our sins from God.
But when Jesus tells us to stand firm, He’s also reminding us He’ll give us the power and the endurance to remain in the faith until the end. He will keep His promise to give us eternal life. He won’t let anything separate us from His love! His cross and empty tomb are our insurance policy against sin and its consequences.
So many things in our lives come to and end. The world itself will soon end. The signs are there to remind us to stay prepared for the end. Jesus is there to keep our faith safe until He comes again. AMEN!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.