I’ve discovered late-night news is a poor sedative. Some scary stuff is happening in our world, which can actually keep one awake at night. As we look at the news, we see terrorism; Isis; executions of innocent people right on the screen; nuclear warheads in North Korea; threats of biochemical warfare; ongoing, never-ending fighting in the Mideast and Afghanistan; global calamities; global warming; famine; and sickness. Some days it seems like things are only getting worse. Have you ever thought this yourself?
I actually believe every generation has probably felt this way. For instance, we are horrified that our kids in schools today have lock-down drills in case someone comes in with a gun. When I was a child, it was the Cold War. We had bomb drills during which we’d hide under our desks in order to avoid radioactive fallout in case of an atomic bomb. It was a bit unsettling for a little kid. The Cold War was unsettling for all of us.
The news can set a person on edge making them feel a little uneasy and fearful about threats of the world and the future of it. The interesting thing is though, Jesus tells us not to be surprised by this. Let me explain.
In today’s text, the disciples are with Jesus. In Matthew chapters 21, 22, and 23, He had been teaching in the Temple. When we get to chapter 24, Jesus is finished teaching and leaves the Temple. As they leave, the disciples admire the Temple’s beauty. The stones were an impressive 24 feet long at places! How did the builders move those things into place? The disciples thought it looked so beautiful, so permanent.
But Jesus tells them the stones won’t be standing around for very long. They would all be coming down. (Seventy years late, the Temple was in ruins.) The disciples were taken aback by this, I’m sure. It would be like you and me standing in front of the White House and hearing someone say, Well, it’s beautiful but before long it is going to be gone. A statement like this would make you curious. That is how it hit the disciples.
Later that day, the disciples are up on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem with Jesus. They sit down and say, “Lord, tell us when this will happen. What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus then goes into this prophetic mode and begins to describe some troubling, difficult times that will happen in the interim between then and the end of world history. False teachers will teach heresy to distract you and lead many astray. Beware of them. Be ready for them. Know your answers so they cannot confuse you. There will be wars and rumors of war. Nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom. In other words, we’re never going to see peace this side of heaven.
Jesus also points out global calamities, famines and earthquakes – all sorts of horrible things will occur. It will be a time of great pain, like labor pains. People will look for a scapegoat when these times arise. Needing someone to blame, they’ll point their fingers at Christians, followers of Jesus. They will blame you, persecute you, question you.
We hear these statements today even. If these religions weren’t so strong in their beliefs, there wouldn’t be wars, some people reason. If those Christians were just not so narrowminded and exclusive, if they just would back down a little bit in their beliefs, the world would be a better place!
We have professors in colleges teaching our young people that faith is a bunch of craziness they should not believe in anymore. Jesus tells us when this happens, people will begin falling away from the faith, walking away from the church, denying Jesus himself, and lawlessness will ensue as the commandments of God are not followed. People won’t know the Ten Commandments, which will lead to love going cold in many people. Love toward God and love toward other people will die because everyone will look out simply for themselves to survive.
Now I know some prognosticators say we are in the end times now. Perhaps they are correct. But practically every generation since the time of Christ has been trying to read those signs and believe it is the end times. Jesus is not giving us a timeline. He told the disciples, “Not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son knows, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36).
I like what Michael Green, a biblical scholar, has written in regard to this text. He says, “The purpose of this prophecy is not to give us history written in the future tense, but, like film previews and hazard warning lights on the motorway, lift our hearts in expectation or in warning.” Jesus is giving us a taste of reality. He is telling those disciples – you and me as well – life will be difficult, even terrifying at times, because we live in a broken world, and these things happen.
Jesus also attaches a challenge to this taste of reality. “See to it that you’re not alarmed by these things.” See to it literally means to be resolved. Make up your mind. Be ready. Then, when these things happen, you will not be alarmed by them. The word “alarmed” literally means freaked out, wailing, crying aloud, panicked. When everybody else is going into a panic, not my followers, Jesus says. Be ready!
We need to be very sturdy in our own belief. How do we stay sturdy and strong in it? We reinforce our faith life with daily Bible readings and classes. We get into Bible study groups with other Christians. We have regular worship. We need to see the big picture again and again in the worship services. We need earnest communion with God in prayer because “Courage is fear that has said its prayers,” as someone once said.
Jesus goes on to say, I expect you to endure. Hold on. Keep your nerve. Stay faithful to me and to the gospel. Be a witness for the cause of the kingdom of God.
When I see the word “endure,” I always think of the last stretch of a marathon I ran years ago. People were dropping off right and left as we hit the final hill before the finish line. Those last three miles were like hitting a wall, and you had to make up your mind to endure. You plan for it. You’re ready, and you’re going to make it to the finish line.
Jesus says, Endure to the end. Stand firm in this faith. Don’t give up or give in, even when it seems everyone else is deserting. Don’t be fooled by crazy, counterfeit teachers. You know your doctrine. You know the Word of God. Be a student of it.
Did you notice that along with these orders, Jesus also offers promises for us to hang onto. He points to the ultimate victory – Those who endure to the end will be saved.
Did you catch it? “Those who endure to the end will be saved.” He gives us a picture of the ultimate victory, which can actually give us ultimate courage in terrifying times. Have you ever heard this statement: Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present. Jesus seems to be speaking to this. He gives us faith in the future. There is an end. We see the big picture in the statement, the whole campaign. Those who endure to the end will be saved. History is not “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” as Shakespeare has said. It is headed toward an end – God’s end. History is His story.
Adm. James Stockdale was a POW for eight years in the Vietnam War. Many years ago, he was asked by author James Collins how in the world he survived this experience. Adm. Stockdale replied, “I never lost faith in the end of the story.”
There you have it! Jesus tells us not to lose faith in the end of the story. He gives us a picture of the end.
I love this little story I heard years ago about some kids playing baseball out on a ballfield. A guy comes walking by, stops at the right-field fence, and sees the game going on. He yells at the right fielder, “Who’s winning?”
The boy answers, “They are.”
“What’s the score?”
“Eighteen to nothing.”
“It doesn’t look too good for you,” says the guy.
The little boy smiles and says, “Ah, we just haven’t been up to bat yet.”
This is the big picture. Jesus is saying God is the home team. It may appear like it’s eighteen to nothing, it’s out of control and evil is winning, but God is in control.
Did you notice here that Jesus used the word, “must”? “These things must happen . . .” It is a curious word. Jesus used it when He talked about the Son of Man as He predicted His death and resurrection. Three times He told His disciples the Son of Man must go up to Jerusalem. He must be rejected, He must suffer and die, and on the third day rise again. It is a divine “must,” a divine necessity. Jesus seems to be implying a divine control is involved – God is in control.
All these things must happen. He describes the calamities as birth pains. (I love the picture here.) Women who have gone through labor know the misery of this experience. But what comes at the end? A new birth! We know a new heaven and a new earth awaits us.
Jesus then goes on to say, Though it looks like evil is winning, know this: the gospel will be spread to the ends of the earth. God’s purposes will not be thwarted. In the end, God’s will is done – like the prayer: “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” “In this world,” Jesus says, “you will have tribulation. Fear not, I have overcome the world.” God’s will will be done.
What are the grounds for us to hope in these promises of Jesus? It is basically this: the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We see the pledge of the final triumph in the risen Christ. In movie terminology – this is a trailer for the main film. I may not know the future, but, because of the resurrection, I know the One who holds my future.
Yes, life can be ominous, appear out-of-control and terrifying. But Jesus says, Don’t be alarmed. Don’t freak out. Trust God. Stand strong for me.
I know a song I love to sing to myself now and then when it looks like things aren’t looking good. It goes like this:
♪ I know not what the future holds.
Lord, I have no way of knowing.
But I know the One who holds my future.
so I have no fear of where I’m going. ♬
This is the song Jesus wants to put into your heart as you watch the late night news. Amen.