This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, March 1, 2015. The Bible verses used are Matthew 24:3-44.
We’re in the second week of our sermon series “The End of Time”, looking at what the Bible has to say about the end times. One of the things the Bible says is that before the end, Jesus will come again. So today, we’re going to look at what Jesus himself had to say about the end.
It’s interesting, I think, that Jesus did not volunteer any information about this. But when the disciples asked him about it, he answered their questions.
Well, kind of. You may have noticed this, but Jesus rarely gave direct answers to questions. It’s kind of funny, you know. Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no,” but Jesus almost never answered questions with yes or no. He always went the long way around. And that’s what he did here.
The first thing Jesus told the disciples was to be careful. Lots of people are going to claim to be the Messiah. Lots of people are going to be fooled. And then he says this: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.”
I think that’s a good message for us right there. Because we’re hearing of wars and rumors of wars now. It’s not the first time, of course. If you look at world history, the one constant seems to be that there have always been lots of wars. That’s true in the history of the United States, too. But Jesus says we don’t need to be alarmed by that. He says, “such things must happen.”
He does not tell us why such things must happen. We wish they did not. But apparently they do. Lots of other things will happen, too. Nation will rise against nation. There will be famines and earthquakes. Remember last week, we looked at the prophecy in the book of Daniel and it said there will be a time of distress such as has not happened since the beginning of nations? Sounds like this might be part of that distress.
And Jesus says that’s just the beginning. Christians will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death and hated for their faith. Many will turn away from the faith. And false prophets will arise. Lots of false prophets will arise. And some of them will perform great signs and wonders. Jesus warns us not to be fooled by them.
And you know, we should not be. Because here’s how Jesus said we’re going to know that Jesus has truly returned. He said, “Immediately after the distress of these days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call.”
People who study theology differ on just how literally we’re supposed to take that, and I’m not claiming I know the answer. But what does seem clear to me is that, when Jesus truly does come again, there will be no mistake about it. It’s not going to be like Jesus’ first coming, when he was born in a stable with just his parents and a few shepherds and wise men knowing what was going on. When Jesus comes again, everyone’s going to know about it. It’s going to be obvious to everyone.
But we’re not going to get much advance notice. When Jesus comes, he’s going to come suddenly. We’re not going to get a countdown clock. God is not going to take out ads that say “only twenty-four shopping days until the second coming”. He tells us it’s going to be just like what happened in the days of Noah. People were just going around, living their lives, and all of a sudden it started raining and by the time anyone knew what was going on, it was too late. That’s how it’s going to be again. We’ll be going around, living our lives, and all of a sudden there Jesus will be. And by the time we know what’s going on, it’ll be too late.
That is, it’ll be too late unless we’re ready. So, we need to be ready. We need to be ready all the time. And that’s true no matter how much we try to look for the signs, because Jesus said, “the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
And maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s why God does not let us know when the day or hour will be. Because if we knew, a lot of people would be tempted to rely on that, right? If we knew Jesus would come on March 23, 2037, people would be tempted to say, well, no need to get ready now, is there? We can wait. We’ve got plenty of time. No hurry. I can do what I want. When it gets a little closer, then I’ll straighten out, but right now, I’ll just do whatever I feel like.
Of course, it doesn’t work that way. We don’t know when Jesus will come. As I said last week, it could be thousands of years from now or it could be before we finish the service today. We have no way to know. So, as Jesus said, we need to be ready all the time. But what does that mean? What do we do to be ready?
Jesus told us. We need to stay faithful. We need to stay faithful to God. Jesus said, “Whoever stands firm to the end will be saved.” That was in the prophecy from Daniel, too, and Jesus confirms it. If we have faith in God, if we put our trust in God, and we don’t lose that faith, we’ll be okay. We’ll be ready. And we’ll be saved.
But it will not be easy. That’s one thing about growing up in the United States the way we have. We have the freedom to do what we’re doing now. We have the freedom to get together and worship God. We have the freedom to talk to people about our faith. We have the freedom to let everyone know that we are Christians. And usually, there are very few if any negative consequences for us when we do that. In fact, around here, people usually respond positively to it. For example, when people find out I’m a Christian pastor, nobody gets upset with me. In fact, people are mostly positive about that. And so, it’s easy for me and all of us to start thinking that publicly being a Christian is a pretty easy thing to do.
But it’s not always going to be that way. The closer we get to the end, the harder it’s going to be. Listen again to what Jesus said: “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” It may be easy for us to publicly be Christians now, but it’s not going to be then.
That’s why we need to be ready. We need to be ready so we can stand firm when these things happen.
We’ve seen examples of people who are. If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve seen stories of people who’ve been captured by the ISIS terrorists. They’ve been tortured and killed for no reason other than that they are Christians. It has to be really tempting, when you’re threatened with death, to turn away from your faith. It has to be really tempting to go along with the terrorists just to save your life. And yet, we’ve seen people not do that. We’ve seen people who stood firm to the end. And I have no doubt that they were saved.
So we need to be ready. We need to be ready to stay faithful no matter what happens. We need to be ready to stay faithful until the end, even in the face of persecution and hatred and death.
Can we do it? Can I do it? I don’t know. I don’t know that it’s possible to know until we’re actually tested. But we still need to do all we can to be as ready as possible.
How do we do that? The best way I know to do it is to stay as close to God as possible. Pray. Read the Bible. Love your neighbor. Do whatever we can to be as close to God as we can. Invite God to be part of our lives every day, in everything we do. If we feel close to God, if we have God a part of everything we do each day, we’re a lot more likely to stay close to God when the time of testing comes.
It’s not going to be easy. Lots of bad things are going to happen. But remember, God is on our side. God wants us to be able to do this. God wants us to stand firm in our faith. If we stay close to God, God will help us. And then, when the end comes, we’ll be ready. And we’ll be able to stand firm, all the way to the end.