Ready or Not...
When I read this text, the haunting lyrics to Larry Norman’s 1969 classic go through my mind.
There's no time to change your mind
The son has come and you've been left behind
You've been left behind
You've been left behind
If I had any trauma in my childhood, it might well have been that song coupled with the 1970’s film “A Thief In The Night.” I couldn’t sleep for a week after watching that film down in the old Billy Sunday Tabernacle during Moody Week. It scared me half to death.
Obviously, I was a sheltered kid.
This text is notoriously hard to interpret. It seems to start with a description of the Second Coming of Jesus and then ends with what sounds more like the Rapture. In between, Jesus says, “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” What things, exactly? And is Jesus playing with the word “generation,” because it’s been well over 2000 years since Christ said this and he hasn’t returned...unless he’s talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit. When he says “these things,” maybe he’s talking about the Temple being destroyed, which did happen just 40 years later. But, admittedly, it is hard to say.
When prophetic texts are hard to sort out, as is this one, it is tempting just to ignore them. That can’t be the right approach. A better approach might be to discern the main idea, even if we can’t explain all the details.
So, what is the main idea?
The main idea isn’t stated directly in these verse, although the flavor of it is here. The main idea of the whole passage of Matthew 24 is encapsulated in two words: “Be ready” (found in verse 44).
One way or another, Jesus is coming back.
Not everyone will be ready.
You be ready.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about what it means to “be ready.”
Will The Real Messiah Please Stand Up
This text may well refer to what we call the Tribulation, a seven-year period of “great distress” spanning the time between the rapture of the Church and the return of Christ. At the outset of this frightening time period, the Church will be caught up to meet Christ and be with Him forever. In other words, we church-age believers are out of the picture at this point. If that is the case, it is tempting to dismiss these words as irrelevant to us. We do that at our own risk.
Because the Tribulation is not something completely new. Rather, it is an intensification of what has already been going on.
Deception by “false messiahs” hardly starts with the Tribulation. Yes, the antichrist, the false prophet, and the beast all make their appearance during this time. However, though they may be some of the most powerful and wicked deceivers of all time, they’re hardly the first.
Peter talked about false teachers in his time: “There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1-3).
Not much has changed.
Here’s the point: don’t be deceived.
That’s easier said than done. The whole danger of deception is that you don’t know it’s happening. So, how do we avoid being deceived?
The best way to avoid being deceived by false messiahs is to know the real Messiah well. Counterfeits are only discernable when we are familiar with the real deal. And we get to know the real Messiah well by reading His Word. Don’t expect to get to know the real Messiah on television or social media. Find him in the Bible. Even “The Chosen” is no substitute for God’s Word. Scripture itself is the only completely reliable source on Jesus. Dig in.
By the way, says Jesus, my return will be unmistakable. You won’t be able miss it or misunderstand it. There will be no doubt. “As lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man,” said Jesus, describing his return. Short of that, don’t be fooled.
We shouldn’t be looking to the sky for the Messiah, though. We should be looking into the Bible.
The truth is that the Messiah is present right now, by his Spirit in the Church. Instead of trying to figure out the time of Christ’s return, we should focus on being Christ’s body and being on his mission here and now while we wait for his return.
How are you doing that?
Patience with Perspective
When Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple, his disciples obviously were curious as to when this unimaginable thing would happen. Their question went beyond the destruction of the Temple, which took place in 70 AD. They asked about “the end,” in other words, the return of Jesus to establish his eternal kingdom. This was also on their minds a few weeks later after Christ’s resurrection as Jesus was about to ascend back to heaven. They asked: “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6).
What was Jesus’ answer?
Be patient and persevere with perspective.
“The end won’t follow immediately,” Jesus said. That’s not hard for us to imagine now, as it has been over 2000 years since Jesus said this.
Jesus gives some perspective, which seems like a downer but should help us know what to expect. What should we expect? Spoiler alert: it isn’t a happy list.
Sound familiar? We get so discouraged by these things happening in our country, but Jesus told us to expect it. This should give us some perspective.
What about persevering? Why persevere, if everything is going to go down the tubes?
Here’s why: “The one who endures to the end will be saved,” said Jesus.
That’s enough, but it’s not all. In spite of all the bad things happening, Jesus promised that “the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it.”
So, don’t lose heart. We can persevere with the help of the Holy Spirit because we know that God’s goals will be achieved, his plan will be accomplished.
It is God’s prerogative to decide when his goals are accomplished and the end comes. Until then, we are to patiently persevere with a proper perspective.
A disciple’s soul-ward journey, the move inward, occurs as our vital connection with God. Contrast this to the outward appearance, which can be faked. Others can be deceived by our apparent holy right-ness. Jesus explains that God’s focus is on “…justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).
Speaking directly to all listeners and using a very strong poetic metaphor Jesus directs, “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:26). According to Jesus, true inward spiritual washing precedes and impacts our outward lives. It is a mistake to assume the opposite is accurate. The flaw of “faking it until you make it,” is a harbinger of deception.
Faithful disciples don’t’ ignore Jesus’ perspective. To fool others is not always difficult. To fool ourselves carries the potential for missing his truths. To disregard the direct teaching of Jesus stirs the Holy Spirit with horror as disciples fail in faithfulness.
Finding time this summer, seeing more than the so-called “Lake Season” in northern Indiana, could bring spiritual growth. One New Testament writer expresses the opportunity of spiritual progress with these words: “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4). Time examining your inward self, where God alone sees your motives and thoughts, is wisdom. At least, that appears to be a logical outcome of Jesus’ encouragement to us all.
Life Application Questions
Is it a matter of balance which Jesus is addressing in Matthew 23:23-32?
Does your discipleship need a careful review this summer?
In addition to reading Scripture, what other resources do you find helpful in looking inward?
Woe, Woe, Woe is Me?
Wednesday, 29 June 2022
The “woes” of this passage can be contrasted to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. Be Loyal Warren W. Wiersbe (pp. 210-212)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
The contrast is evident:
Versus - Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” 5:3
Versus - Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5:4
Versus - Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 5:5
Versus - Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 5:6
Am I a Pharisee? Not the Jewish kind with the long black robes, phylacteries and tassels, but a Pharisee in spirit? Am I a hypocrite? – judging the rulers in the days of Jesus, but living a hypocritical life today? It’s easy to justify my life as a believer because I made a decision for Christ. Is my “Christian” life characterized by church attendance rather than a true spirit of Christian love?
Might I be any of the things Matthew speaks of in the woes – instead of the be-attitudes?
Am I truly righteous or am I merely self-righteousness? Might I hold my head high because I’ve checked all the boxes of what is a “Christian” way of life while ignoring the spirit of love and humility, or asking God to assess my actions to see if any wicked way is in me? Have I been convicted of a certain attitude and not followed through in my actions? (James 4:17)
Do I shut up the kingdom rather than entering the kingdom? Am I proud in spirit or am I poor in spirit? Do I require man made traditions of others like, a certain dress or hair style or a certain style of music rather than humbly understanding differences – either due to generational style or impropriety that really isn’t Scriptural? Might I appear unwelcoming to those who are inquiring about the truth of the gospel because they don’t fit in my criteria as what is acceptable?
Am I a condemned as a destroyer or comforted as a mourner? Do I mourn over my sins and mourn with the needy widows or do I flatter with my words as a pretext for greed? (1 Thess. 2:5)
In my pride am I offending precious souls rather than welcoming them to the path leading to heaven?
Am I greedy for gain or hungering for holiness? Is my joy from material gains – growth in my portfolio or the latest possession, rather than obediently living a holy life manifesting the fruit of the Spirit daily? Might I be angry more than loving to my family or coworkers? Am I living more on the fast track than seeking the good for others?
There are so many various convicting thoughts in these passages and soul searching is uncomfortable, however, there is still time to rectify our hypocrisy. While we want to hear those things that make us feel good, this passage is there for our consideration.
For the word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)