Apocalypse Now … and Then

Fourth in a Lenten Series on Matthew 24,
Delivered March 22, 1998 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
Matthew 24:29-31
29 "Immediately after the distress of those 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.’
30 "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky,
and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of
Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will
gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the
other.

Well were you one of the many this past week who heaved a great sigh of relief that once again we have dodged a cosmic bullet? Well not exactly a bullet, it was more like a gigantic asteroid that was on a collision course, we were told, with the earth, expected to slam into our planet sometime around the year 2028, but then whoops astronomers redid their calculations and told us that this thing is going to miss us by around 600,000 miles or so -Whew! A lot of people thought that might be the end of the world. What will the end of the world be like? In the text that we’re going to look at in just a moment as a part of our sermon series on “The Return of Christ”, we are going to see Jesus use a lot of apocalyptic language to describe the end times as they are ushered in by his second coming. Apocalyptic language that Jesus gathers from over a half a dozen Old Testament prophetic books. Apocalyptic language is language of catastrophe and it’s cataclysmic language that is used to describe end time events. In scripture apocalyptic language is usually used when human language cannot express the awesomeness of what is going to happen when the earth comes to an end. Apocalyptic language is used when our frail human words cannot even begin to describe what is on the other side of eternity; and so Jesus seizes on apocalyptic language to describe what his second coming is going to be like. I have a hunch that even this language pales in terms of the awesome cataclysmic chaotic sense of what is really going to happen when Jesus does return one day. Human language just can’t even begin to exaggerate what that is going to be like, but let’s get a taste.

Turn with me in your Bibles and keep them open during the sermon to the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew as this morning we pick up at verse twenty-nine and read through verse thirty-one.

This is the word of God – this is Jesus speaking: (see scripture text above)

Join me as we pray – And now Father as my words are true to your Word may they be taken to heart, but as my words may stray from your Word may they quickly be forgotten, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

There was a night back in 1965 and on that evening two individuals huddled in a seance with the famous spirit medium Arthur Ford. One was a wayward Presbyterian. A man by the name of Reverend Myung Sun Moon and his top aide Bo Hepock was there with him when Arthur Ford began to channel a message through a spirit from the other side concerning Reverend Moon. Here is what the spirit said verbatim “He is one of those who will be the human instrument through whom the world teacher will be able to speak. Jesus of Galilee will not return. It is not necessary because the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth can speak through Moon more clearly.” Oh really? In that same decade a new branch of science was launched and was called Exobiology, which has to do with the study of the possibility of life forms outside of our solar system. In laboratories and in great radio telescopic observatories and in national conventions, many of the best intellectuals of our world gather yearly to focus on this discipline. One way has said “This is the only branch of science that has yet to demonstrate that its subject matter even exists”. Well I’m here to tell you this morning that Reverend Moon is wrong and the Exobiologists are right, because Jesus is coming, he is coming again! From outside of our solar system, life from that realm is going to enter into this world. In these three verses before us this morning Jesus clearly teaches that he will one day visibly and personally return to this planet. Well what’s it going to be like? What will the world be like when Christ comes again? Well Jesus uses apocalyptic language to describe that. Amidst all of the chaotic upheaval that, that language describes I would posit that there are three clear truths that you and I can take away from this text this morning.

The first one is this. When Jesus comes back again the world is going to be radically focused, focused on Jesus as it has never been before. You know for the past two millennia this world has pretty much suffered from a bad case of spiritual attention deficit disorder. Being pretty much indifferent to Christ, but when he returns the world is going to be riveted on the reality of his presence. There will be no doubt about it – He has come back!

The year is about 4 B.C. On a certain day that year the sun rose and set in the usual fashion. That night was a peaceful night, a quiet night and a bright shining star hovered over a lowly stable cave in Bethlehem. Out on the streets the crowd was largely oblivious to what was going on inside that stable as in humility and with weakness and a whole lot of messy afterbirth, the son of man, the son of God, God becoming human broke through time and space and into this world. The angels peered over the edge of eternity to look at this strange sight of God actually entering into human history.

Now hit the fast forward button up to our text this morning. The year is God only knows, but there is an eternal eclipse, the sun is snuffed out like a match stick in a bucket of water and the moon ceases to shine and the planets disappear in what the “Doors” sing about in one of their top-rated songs back in the 1960’s actually comes true. Dare I sing it? Last week I heard that the preacher up here actually sang as a part of his sermon, dare I do that? Ron singing: “When the stars fall from the sky” remember that song? The stars, Jesus said, “are going to fall from the sky as the Son of man makes his reappearance”. This time not to local indifference like back in Bethlehem but to world acknowledgment as he comes with all of his unveiled power and glory, ridding the clouds like a chariot with a vanguard of angelic armies. This time he is not coming into the world with a babies cry but with the victorious trumpet blast of victory! At his second coming, you and I begin to see God the jeweler at work.

Go into a jewelry store and ask to see their finest pearls and what do they do? They spread out a piece of jet black velvet cloth and against that cloth the full brilliance and beauty of those pearls is displayed. Your eyes are not distracted and you can really focus on them. Look at verse 29 of our text. As Jesus describes an astronomical blackout, sun, moon, stars and planets vanish from the sky and against that jet black velvet backdrop appears the pearl of great price, in all of his glory and unveiled power and as he comes there are no distractions because nothing competes with Jesus’ glory and every eye on this earth will focus on the reality that he has returned!

The second thing that you and I can take away from this text is the fact that whoever happens to be around then when Christ does return is going to be totally blown away by this. Look at verse thirty, Jesus says “All the nations will mourn” and the literal Greek there for mourn means to wale. When Jesus comes the second time its going to be– Whooh!– everybody is going to behold his unveiled power and glory. You and I as believers really need to hear this. We really need to hear this because you and I who often times talk about a personal relationship with Christ and rightly so, if we are not careful we can become too casual or maybe too cavalier about knowing God intimately and forgetting that to stand in the unveiled presence of Jesus Christ is not going to be a casual encounter.

There is a New Yorker cartoon that shows a guy walking by the proverbial guy with a beard that has a sign that says “Prepare to meet thy God” and in the next frame it shows the guy peering into a mirror on a vending machine combing his hair and straightening his tie. One of the key questions of the Old Testament is this: “Who can see God and live”; and the rhetorical answer was “no one”. When Jesus returns, believer and unbeliever alike we are going to be blown away! We’re going to be blown away and let out a wail – Whooh!! Its not going to be a casual encounter. Jesus is going to come with all of his unveiled glory and we should never take that presumptuously or take that for granted as if we will just be okay when that happens. We need to cultivate a respect and healthy fear and reverence for the unveiled power and glory of God. That begins in this life right now before he returns. In fact it begins right now right here in worship. You know If you and I had any inkling of what it really means to stand and behold the unveiled presence of Christ, we would be too scared to yawn in this place. We would not show up here on Easter Sunday with Easter bonnets. No, we’d be wearing crash helmets! It’s a scary thing to be in the presence of almighty God. When Jesus returns we are going to be in his unveiled glorious presence. If Christ pulled back the veil right here this morning and fully displayed himself Central Presbyterian Church would be blown sky high! Yet you and I need to take that reality and hold it in healthy tension with “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”. When he returns you and I are going to be blown away by his glory and power. The only difference is that believers are going to be blown to kingdom come and those who are former nonbelievers (because there are not going to be any nonbelievers when he returns, but there will be some too late believers) will be blown to the place where the sun never shines for all eternity.

This brings up a third thing that you and I can take away from this text this morning and it concerns believers. When Christ returns, in the life of believers there is going to be the unleashing of a centripetal force. Now back when Jesus came the first time, which culminated in his bodily resurrection and then his ascension, a tremendous centrifugal force was released in the earth. A force that has propelled believers across this world to take the gospel to the utter ends of the earth, a centrifugal force sending us out. In fact in authentic worship when we gather here on Sundays a centrifugal force builds up here as you and I are in the presence of Christ and whirls and propels you and me out of here to be salt and light throughout the coming week.

Look at verse thirty-one. When Jesus’ feet once again touch terra firma the forces are reversed. The centrifugal force ceases and a centripetal force occurs as Christ’s angels begin to draw in and gather together the elect, God’s chosen people, from the four corners of the earth that centripetal force draws in. There is this great line in Mozart’s Requiem that goes like this: “Remember merciful Jesu that I am the reason for your journey”. You see friends the good news of the gospel is that Jesus does remember. That Christ doesn’t forget you and me, that he is coming – he is coming again! He is not primarily going to return to this world for the thrill of knocking the planets out of the sky or to display his power and glory or to seek revenge, he is coming back for you and for me out of his undying and yet a very much of a dying at Calvary love that just won’t let us go. You see if you’re a Christian, you are the choicest possession that God has. If you are a Christian you are one of God’s elect. That means that God has cast his vote for you and whatever God votes for he always follows through on. So he is coming back because he loves you and me. He is coming back for us because he really can’t live without us. That is the great news of the gospel folks. So what? Big deal! What does that have to do with what I have to face when I walk out of here today? Ron I’ve got a lot of weighty decisions. I’ve got a lot of important stuff in my life that I have awaiting me when I go out of this sanctuary; so what? Well a couple of things that might answer that question. I don’t know when “The” apocalypse is going to occur. We will learn more about that in the next couple of weeks. We will learn that no one will be able to know. It is just going to happen and you can’t predict; however, I’ll tell you a prediction that is going to come true. In the next two weeks you and I are going to go through some little apocalypses. There are going to be those days when you and I are going to wake up and the sun isn’t shining, even though it really is. When it seems like all chaos has broken loose. When all kinds of cataclysmic stuff will turn our lives inside out and right side down and we don’t know if we’re going to make it. Those little apocalypses are always happening aren’t they? Do you know what this text reminds me of? It reminds me that when I go through those little apocalypses I need to keep my eyes open for Jesus Christ because whenever there is an apocalypse Jesus is coming through it and when its over he will be there for you and me at the end.

Secondly you might ask yourself this question. When “The” apocalypse does occur and if I happen to be here on the earth when Christ returns, will I be ready? What kind of an encounter will I have with him? Am I prepared? Let me leave you pondering the words of a poem by Theresa Greenwood. It goes like this:

“I don’t hear much mention of your coming again. People seem to talk about everything else. Things like diets, bank accounts, new cars, fancy boats and yachts. Quietly your word pleads for us to await that day, yet we seal our ears. A long time ago the world buzzed with the same silly chatter, yet only one man listened and built a boat.”
Join me as we pray:
“Father we thank you that you are a God who does not leave us in the lurch. You have not let this planet nor our lives go their own way, but you have promised to return and to bring your kingdom to fruition; to bring us home to be with you eternally. Lord we thank you that amidst all of the catastrophe and chaos of this life, we encounter you coming to us but you don’t stand just on the brink of eternity and extend your arms open to us and say “Come unto Me” but you come to us and meet us, gather us with that centripetal force of your angel legions and bring us to live with you eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord – Amen”.

© 1998, Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org