Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2009 Matthew 24:1-14 “Signs of His Coming: Tribulation and Apostasy”
SI: This is the Third Sunday of Advent. Advent means “Coming.”
For many centuries it’s been the practice of the church to spend
these four Sundays before Christmas focusing on Christ’s Coming.
Not just his first coming in Bethlehem, but his Second Coming as well.
Matthew 24 is a famous passage about the Second Coming.
Jesus’ disciples asked him:
“What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age.”
He responded by giving them, in these first 14 verses, three signs of his coming.
We looked at the first sign last week: Wars, Famines, and Earthquakes.
Saw how all disasters are a sign of coming judgment.
So as Christians we are not to be alarmed, but trust our sovereign God,
and be prepared, spiritually and morally for his coming.
Now let’s look at the second sign of his coming.
INTRO: After college I taught school for two years, and my boss was a man
named Verne Craft. Mr. Craft was a tough principal.
He was an ex-Marine and a Korean War vet.
He had been hired to deal with the disciplinary failures of the previous principal.
Things had gotten out of hand and the hope was that Mr. Craft would
set things back on track. Everybody knew why he had been hired.
And there were some students who were determined to challenge him.
It started the very first day of school, his very first day as new principal.
There was an assembly in the gym, all the middle and high school—about 400.
Mr. Kraft was addressing the student body and saying that this was going
to be a good year of learning and respect—
all the typical things that you expect a principal to say.
And right in the middle of his speech, someone lit a string of firecrackers,
and dropped them under the bleachers.
Pandemonium ensued! The place went nuts.
But Mr. Kraft just stood there in all that confusion, and scanned the students,
and his eyes fixed on two boys who were watching him, laughing a little too hard,
two seniors. He walked right up into the bleachers, grabbed them.
They started protesting that they hadn’t done anything.
But the students around them knew that they were the ones who had done it.
He marched them out of the gym.
When he came back in a few minutes later he said:
Those two boys have been suspended indefinitely,
and it remains to be seen whether they will graduate or not.
As I was saying, this is going to be a year of learning and respect.
And you could have heard a pin drop.
Mr. Craft had more battles ahead. Some parents opposed him, said too strict.
But he accomplished his mission and restored order and discipline.
Now let’s go back to that moment when the firecrackers were exploding and
smoke was coming out from under the bleachers and kids were screaming.
If you had been there you would have thought—This is not a good sign.
You would be thinking, He’s toast. These kids are going to eat him alive.
But in fact, those firecrackers were a turning point.
They were not a sign of his future failure, but of his future victory.
They were a sign that there was opposition, that there were students who did not
respect authority, but they were also a sign that they had met their match,
and that good things were in store for the school year.
Jesus’ disciples wanted a sign.
“Tell us, when will these things be?” When will the Temple be destroyed?
“And what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”
In the Jewish mind, those two events were one—
the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age.
Jesus said: OK, this is a sign of my coming—Opposition. Conflict.
Opposition from the world.
You will be hated because of me. Tribulation. Persecution for my name.
Some of you will even be put to death for being Christians.
And not just opposition from those on the outside.
Opposition from those on the inside.
People who once called themselves Christians falling away, turning against you.
Professing Christians being led astray by false teaching, becoming lawless,
their love for church growing cold.
That’s a sign of my coming.
All the opposition and conflict and suffering you experience as a Christian.
The disciples wanted a date on the calendar. Jesus gives us something much better.
Gives us a firm basis for being joyful in the midst of suffering.
Gives us a framework for all of the misery, sorrow, troubles face in this life.
If you are a Christian you can look at all of these things, worst sort of problems,
sorrows, even if you are weeping, can have a deep, unshakable confidence.
Because Jesus says, No matter what happens, opposition is not a sign of defeat—
it’s a sign of my coming. And if you endure to the end, you will be saved.
And when you experience it, when you see the cause of Christ suffering,
Don’t say to yourself, this is a bad sign. Things are falling apart.
Say, this is a good sign. It’s a sign of Christ’s future victory.
Jesus says, Stand firm. Endure. Stand there in the smoke and noise and confusion,
and by faith draw a line from that opposition to my promised coming.
Let’s look at this sign more carefully, under two headings. Jesus says:
1. Expect it. Expect opposition. Have a realistic view of Christian life.
2. Endure it. Stand firm, trusting Jesus, and you will be saved.
MP#1 Expect it.
Jesus said: “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death.”
“You will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.”
“Many will fall away.”
“Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”
“Lawlessness will be increased.”
“The love of many will grow cold.”
It’s clear that Jesus does not want us to be surprised. He wants us to expect
opposition. He wants us to understand that it is the norm for his people in this time.
Jesus often spoke this way. He said in the Sermon on the Mount.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.”
“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all manner
of evil against you falsely because of me.”
And in the Upper Room he said:
“A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”
He tells his disciples that they should expect opposition from two directions,
from outside the church and from inside the church.
He calls outside opposition tribulation. Your version might say persecution.
Jesus says some tribulation will be so severe that believers will be put to death.
You know that has happened throughout history and even in our time.
I told you several months ago about the tribulation of Christians
in the Indian state Orissa. It’s been off and on past two years.
Hindu mobs targeted Christians. Over 70,000 have fled homes to refugee camps.
Even in those camps there is minimal protection from the police.
Thousands of Christians homes have been destroyed,
hundreds of churches, Christian orphanages, schools have been burned.
There have been countless beatings, rapes, and some murders.
Sometimes Christians are forced by these mobs to decide on the spot whether
to go through a Hindu conversion ritual or have houses burned, families abused.
Many of these Christians are new converts themselves or first generation Christians.
May remember that I read you part of an article in the New York Times.
A reporter had visited some of these village and refugee camps.
Wrote about a 25-year-old Christian woman in a refugee camp, Ms. Nayak.
The article said:
Ms. Nayak’s husband, Bikram, was fatally wounded while she hid and her house was destroyed. Mr. Nayak, 30, a government kerosene salesman, died from head wounds after being severely beaten by the mob. Ms. Nayak said her faith remained unshaken. “My husband died for Christ,” she said. “I was born a Christian and I will die a Christian.”
Organizations that track religious persecution like Voice of the Martyrs
have documented evidence of people killed every year for their faith in Christ—
mostly in Asia and the Middle East.
This is a daily reality for many believers—being a hated minority,
subject to oppressive laws, harassed by police, sometimes facing violence.
Praise God we’ve never experienced that kind of tribulation, and hope never will.
But on some level, every true Christian experiences tribulation.
If you say, I’m going to raise my kids in the faith.
I’m going to raise them to walk with Christ and to fight sin and love people.
I’m going to raise them to be devoted to the church and God’s kingdom.
If you say those things, there will be tribulation.
The influence of the world is going to push back.
It’s going to come at you through TV, pop culture, through unbelieving friends.
The devil will hate the claim you are making on your children’s soul and affections.
There will be conflict, maybe even with your children.
Or if you say, I’m going to be a witness for Jesus in my extended family,
or in my school or in my workplace—there will probably be some opposition.
Everything good we do for Jesus is going to involve suffering for Jesus—
because the world is going to push back.
That shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus tells us to expect it. I think we mostly do.
But then he says something that is very surprising.
He says that we are to expect opposition from inside the church too.
Jesus says, “Many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”
He’s talking about Christians. He’s saying that there will be people who professed
to be Christians and gave evidence of being Christians, who fall away
and then turn against other Christians. That’s called apostasy.
Sometimes Christian young people who go away to state universities have
apostate professors. A well known one is Dr. Bart Ehrman at UNC Chapel Hill.
He grew up in a Christian home, went to Moody Bible Institute, and Wheaton—
and then to Princeton. There he fell away from the faith.
Now he teaches New Testament at Chapel Hill
and does his best to destroy the faith of Christian college students.
Jesus says there are those who are lead astray by false prophets.
And then he says that because of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.
There will be people who are in your church who you love, Christian friends,
And you counted on them, and were living the Christian life with them,
and fighting the good fight of faith with them—
And then they will start to live worldly lives, and their friends will change,
and their love for church will grow cold.
They don’t necessarily become betrayers and haters,
but they are a dead weight on the church because their hearts are elsewhere.
And that is so discouraging.
Jesus said: This is a sign of my coming—tribulation, apostasy—
the opposition and conflict you get as a Christian in big and little ways.
These are visible manifestations of the great spiritual conflict
between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light.
Doesn’t that sound strange?
Isn’t that so different from the way we often talk about the Christian life?
Especially the way American Christians talk about it. Like following Jesus
is the way to get all your physical and emotional needs met.
I doubt Christians in Orissa, India say that following Jesus will get you the
lifestyle you want. They know that when you are saved you don’t step into a
magic circle, free from conflict, you step into a war.
And that’s what Jesus wants you to know. Don’t be surprised by opposition.
When Winston Churchill addressed England in the darkest hour he said:
“I have nothing to offer you but blood, sweat, toil, and tears.”
and the British people said, Thank you, for being real with us.
For Christians it’s not just blood, sweat, toil, and tears.
It is that, but it’s also the Spirit and love of Jesus Christ,
and the promise of his coming and all things set right.
And it’s that coming that enables us not just to expect opposition,
but to endure it. Brings us to our second point.
MP#2 Endure it.
Jesus says, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
NIV translates it this way: “But he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Jesus says that there will be an end. Isn’t that great to know!
One day all the conflict with sin and Satan will end.
That is our hope—victory in a single day when Jesus Christ returns
every enemy will be defeated and everything set right.
Today the church is struggling, tomorrow things will be completely reversed.
The enemies of God, the persecutors and haters will be cast down,
and the cause of Christ will be glorious.
On a personal level, your own struggles with sin will end on that day.
John: “when he appears, we shall be like Him”
Paul: “we shall be changed, in a moment, in twinkling of eye, at last trumpet.”
When you see Lord Jesus Christ—coming in clouds—all will be made right in you.
You will become the powerful and beautiful person God created you to be,
glorified like Jesus was after his resurrection.
And there will be no struggles and weaknesses and doubts
just strength, light, joy—one great age after another,
of working and building and reigning in Christ’s eternal kingdom.
All of your enemies, everything that opposes your attempt to live for Christ
will be confused and thrown down.
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ should be prominent in you hopes.
The early church used to often pray, “Maranatha. Come quickly Lord Jesus.”
And that is not an empty prayer, because every day is closer.
But if the Lord tarries (as Christians used to say)
you will have to endure to end of life.
The conflict and opposition won’t end until you rest in your grave.
So you have to be determined to persevere for a lifetime.
This exhortation to endure, stand firm is repeated by Jesus eight times in Revelation
Eight times he says: “To him who overcomes I will give crown of life.”
That means there will be obstacles to overcome.
Spiritual victories not going to happen overnight
Perhaps you look at mature Christians, or read about giants in the faith and say,
I’ll never be there, never know God like that.
I’ll never be able to face conflict and opposition with such calm and grace.
But you have the very same means of grace that they have.
The word and Spirit. And worship and prayer, fellowship with other believers.
In other words, you have to build into your life, over the long-haul,
the rhythms of the Christian life. Lord’s Day worship, submission to the preached
Word, celebration of the Table, Sunday after Sunday, year after year,
decade after decade.
Spiritual growth takes time.
Take time and effort to become loving, brave and patient when attacked.
Victory over sin takes time. You will have temptations and setbacks.
So be determined to fight to the end of your life.
That’s the long-term application. Jesus says—Keep the end in view.
You’re in a marathon, not a sprint. Endure opposition. Stand firm to the end.
But there is a more immediate application. Something you have to do this week.
And even more next week, especially next Friday,
Friday week as we say in the South.
You need to have yourself a Merry Christmas.
Do you remember the conflict at Jesus’ birth? Do you remember
how Herod tried to kill him, and murdered all the baby boys in Bethlehem?
That’s because Christmas is the opening shot of last battle of great war between
Christ and Satan. Satan knows that Christmas is the beginning of the end.
And that his first coming in Bethlehem as a baby will be crowned with his
Second Coming as King. You have to celebrate that.
Yes you have conflict and opposition, but you must have a merry Christmas.
This will be easier for some of you than others.
If you are enjoying a season of peace, then celebrating Christmas is easy.
But some of you are in the thick of the battle, your wounds are hurting.
You might not feel like having a merry Christmas, but you must.
Remember what Nehemiah told the Israelites on the feast day
when they were weeping over their sins and the brokenness of Jerusalem?
“Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
And that’s what you need to do.
Few things cheer Christians more and frustrate the devil more than Christmas.
We’re celebrating the birth of the one who has come to set all things right.
When we talk about Christ, mostly talk about the cross.
That’s central to our preaching and theology. Jesus died for our sins.
But as some church historians have pointed out, in times past,
Christians were more at the manger than at the cross.
They were continually filled with wonder that God had come in human flesh.
It’s not that they downplayed the cross,
but they knew that if this Son of the woman has been born,
who is also, at the same time, the divine Son of God,
then all his other work, his suffering, his cross, his resurrection victory,
is as good as done—Satan is finished. That is reason to be merry.
The carol says:
God rest you merry, gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior Was born on Christmas day,
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r When we were gone astray;
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.
Merry Christmas, my friends. King Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Now is now sitting at the right hand of the Father,
and at the end of the age he will come and consummate his salvation work.
Take confidence in that—no matter what you are facing,
and commit yourself to fight the good fight against sin and devil,
until your King returns and sets all things right.