Until He Comes…We Go

Second in a Lenten Series on Matthew 24,
Delivered March 8, 1998 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
Matthew 24:4-14
4 Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you.
5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ, ‘
and will deceive many.
6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that
you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to
7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
9 "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to
death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will
betray and hate each other,
11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will
grow cold,
13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole
world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

Well, what a difference one week can make! Recently I listened to a tape that had two sermons on it; both of them were preached right here in this sanctuary one week apart. The first one was preached by Murray Smoot on November 14, 1982. The second one was a sermon entitled “How Can We Go On?” and it was preached by then associate Pastor Pat Hartsock a week later on November 21, 1982. In the week’s time between those two Sundays, Murray suffered a heart attack and went into the hospital and had quadruple bypass surgery, and a plane went down killing all seven people aboard, including Lois Steigerwald, the director of music here, and most of her family, along with Susan Goshorn, daughter of Gary and Mary Margaret. Then on that Friday between those two Sundays, with Murray’s life hanging in the balance over at St. Joseph Hospital, Pat conducted the funeral right here in the sanctuary with seven caskets lined up across the front of the church. I am sure that for many of you it may have seemed like the world was coming to an end.

During that funeral he addressed that tragedy head-on, and then two days later in a sermon on November twenty-first he made reference to the fact that everyone was gathered this morning looking for answers–answers as to why that tragedy had happened. And he said “I am here to tell you this morning that there are no answers!” Then he went on to say that “Oftentimes we want all the answers to tragedies and things like that because if we have all the answers, then we don’t have to deal with God.” So he said, “There are no answers and so all you and I have left is Jesus, but that is enough–to go on!”

You know when it comes to the end times, and the return of Christ and the second coming, you and I would like to have all the answers. We would like to have it all nice and neatly laid out and wrapped up, wouldn’t we? We’re no different than Jesus’s disciples, who last week we saw, in Verse 3 of Matthew 24, come to Jesus and say, “When is the end of the world going to occur? What is your second coming going to be like?” There have been people throughout history who have tried in great detail to provide you and me with all of the answers; oftentimes going far beyond what scripture warrants.

Jesus, when he addresses his disciples and begins to answer those questions, doesn’t lay out a nice chronological chart of the end times. He doesn’t give them all of the details about his second coming. So I am here this morning to tell you that when it comes to the end times and the second coming, we can’t have all the answers, but that is all right, because then you and I are forced to trust Christ, which is what being a disciple is really all about anyway, isn’t it? No, we don’t have all the answers, but this morning in the text before us we are going to see that Jesus tells his disciples and he tells you and me that things are heating up, that the kingdom is moving toward fulfillment and I believe in this text that Jesus lays out four components of what it means to live faithfully, expectantly as disciples awaiting the sure return of Christ.

So I would invite you this morning to turn in your Bibles with me to Matthew’s gospel the 24th chapter, and I would encourage you to keep your Bibles open during the sermon, as this morning we take a look at Verses 4 through 14.

This is the word of God. “Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you.'” By the way, that is the first point as to how you and I are to live as we await the return of Christ: don’t be deceived!

“‘For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.'” That is point number two: you and I are not to be alarmed!

“‘Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then 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. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.'” That is the third point: that you and I are to stand firm!

“‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.'” That is the fourth point: a world missions vision! “‘And then the end will come.'”

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 should stray from Your Word, may they be quickly forgotten, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

So as believers, you and I find ourselves waiting for the return of Christ, the first thing that Jesus tells us that we need to do is there in Verse 4. He says, “Do not be deceived, do not be misled.” In other words, you and I are responsible for our own theologies; especially, you and I are responsible to make sure we are not misled when it comes to the return of Christ.

You know, that there are all kinds of false prophets out there, all kinds of bogus teaching going on, there are people within the church of Jesus Christ who will come up to you and me and say, “Oh! All of that language about the personal, visible return of Christ is not to be taken literally; that’s symbolic.” No! Scripture is clear that one day history will come to an end and that Jesus’ feet will once again touch terra firma as he brings his kingdom to fruition at the end of all time.

Or you have people at the other end of the spectrum who will more than gladly lay out for you a play-by-play description of exactly when, how and where all of this is going to take place. Beware of those folks as well. Beware of folks who are silent when scripture speaks clearly, but on the same side of the coin beware of those who speak when scripture is silent.

No, we don’t have all the answers, but do you know how you and I can be sure that we are never misled? Well, I’ll tell you this: here is how you can be sure. Do what I do. Go through life with an eight-hundred pound Bible chained to your leg. That is the best way to make sure that you will never be misled theologically about anything; the return of Christ or whatever. When people come to me and say, “Ron, have you heard about this new idea or this ministry or whatever? Come on, let’s take off, it looks like this is the way the Lord would have us go.” I always say, “You run on ahead, I’ve got an eight-hundred pound Bible chained to my leg and I can only move slowly, because I have to check it out against the Word of God first.” I will tell you, over nineteen years of ministry, a lot of times I have not moved as fast as some people want me to, but I have rarely gone on any wild-goose chases or wound up down any blind alleys.

I would invite you to commit to placing an eight-hundred pound Bible around your leg and when the word of God is clear, then you put both feet down firm and say, “Okay, I’ll run in that direction.” But where the Word of God is not clear, you’d better hold to that tentatively.

Well, Jesus goes on to say, “There are going to be a whole lot of people come on the scene claiming to be me having returned. Don’t be fooled by them.” How can you and I know whether or not we will be duped by some false messiah? When Christ does return, if we happen to be alive at that time, how can you and I be sure that it is really him and not some imposter? It is very simple–very, very simple. Let me tell you how you can know whether a messiah is false or not, whether Christ has really returned or not. Well, if somebody shows up on the scene, claiming to be Jesus having returned, look around and see if you can find one person, maybe even yourself, who has some doubts about that. And if you can find one person who has some doubt about that, it’s a false messiah, because the Bible is crystal clear when it tells us that every eye will behold Christ at his return.

You see, at the first Christmas, there was divided opinion. When Christ first came into this world, there were people who had their doubts about who he really was, but the Bible tells us that when he returns the second time there will be no doubts. He will come with his angels and archangels and the sound of the trumpets, and every knee will bow, every tongue confess. You will know when Christ returns the next time. There will be no doubts; so don’t be misled!

Well, the second thing that Christ says you and I ought to incorporate into our lives as we wait for his return is right in Verse 6, where he says we are not to be alarmed. There are a lot of things out in the world that alarm you and me. Christ says that the world is at birth pains right now as the kingdom of God is coming forward, and that manifests itself through wars and rumors of wars, and political and economic upheaval, and all kinds of chaos and moral degradation in society. We look around us and sometimes we are tempted to think this must be it, it’s got to be the end times, the end of the world. Then Jesus says, “Whoa.” You know, all through history, in every age of history, Christians have looked at their surrounding culture and society and said, “This must be it, it can’t get any worse than this!” Jesus says, “Now wait a minute, this is only the beginning of the end, these are only birth pains, wait ’til the real labor starts. You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

So you and I as Christians, our job is not to run around sounding alarm bells every time we see natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanic activity and when we see all kinds of wars and political upheaval. We are not to run around clanging the alarm bells; no, instead you and I are to be there with the love and healing power of Christ. When people are victims of natural disasters we are to be there with the things they need in terms of medical care. We are to flesh out the gospel to people who are ravished by those kinds of things. Our job as Christians awaiting the return of Christ is not to put on white robes and get up on a mountain top somewhere; no, we are called to go into the valleys of darkness. We are called to enter the fray and bring the power and the love of the healing presence of Christ to people in need. That is what you and I are called to do. We are not to run around like spiritual Chicken Littles, crying “The sky is falling! The world is coming to an end!” No, we are not to panic, Jesus says. Don’t go overboard and don’t be alarmed. The end is coming but it is not yet.

The third thing that Jesus says that you and I need to do and be as disciples awaiting his return we find in Verse 13 of our text. He says that you and I are to stand fast. Stand fast until he returns. That sounds kind of simple, but it is easier said than done. You know, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ you have been called to a post and the order Christ gives to you and me is to hold that post at all cost, to stand firm. Then he goes on to say it is those who do not desert that post that will be saved. Well, that is easier said than done. Look at Verses 9 through 12, because in those verses Jesus lays out a whole litany of all of those things out in the world that are trying to knock you and me off our perch, that will try and seduce you and me to abandon the post that he has called us to.

Things like persecution; he tells us that we are going to be persecuted, and you and I think we know what persecution is–we get kidded at the water cooler at work or whatever. You and I don’t really know what it means to be persecuted. I got a taste of it last fall when I had the privilege of sitting at the feet of Chinese pastor George Chen out at the Hungerfords’ house as he talked about what it was like to be in imprisoned in China and beaten and tortured and be forced for seventeen years day in and day out to shovel sewage in a sewage pit. He said, “Ah, that pit became my garden.” You see, the guards would leave him alone because it was too rank and they didn’t want to be down there in that, so he said “I was left alone where I could sing hymns to God and recite scripture that I had memorized for seventeen years.” Folks, there are places in the world as I speak where Christians this very moment are being persecuted because they are standing firm for Jesus Christ. Places like the Sudan, China, parts of Mexico and Moslem countries. Standing firm and fast because Jesus is their ultimate allegiance.

Jesus says, “It might even go past persecution to martyrdom. Some of you are going to be put to death, be killed for your faith.” If 1998 is just a typical year, more Christians around the world, somewhere between one-hundred fifty and two-hundred thousand Christians will be martyred; put to death for their allegiance to Jesus Christ this year alone, and that is the yearly average. Just in this one year. That is more than the first five centuries of Christendom put together, when we usually think about martyrdom. It costs dearly sometimes to be a Christian; you’ll be persecuted, you can be martyred.

Jesus goes on to say, “You will be betrayed.” Oh, nothing hurts as much as betrayal, does it? There are going to be those Christians out there that you are going to see bail out when things get tough; maybe even turn you in to save their own tails. You and I are going to encounter Christians in our lives who will oppose us when we take biblical stands on things like abortion, sexual immorality and social justice for the poor. There will be Christians–false prophets and leaders–who will come to us and say, “Hey, let me show you an easier way to be a Christian. Let me show you a way where you can blend into society and not offend anyone; let me show you how the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says.” Or we will be tempted to maybe bail out when we look around us and see all the social degradation out there, and we seem so insignificant, and the church seems insignificant, and you know, what can we do? Maybe we just ought to throw in the towel. We see biblical morality mocked, and we see lying becoming commonplace and even rewarded in our society, and we see all kinds of social wickedness and degradation escalating, and we are tempted to just throw in the towel and say, “What’s the use?” No! Don’t do it! Stand fast, stand firm!

There was a group of Christians in the Scottish Highlands who one night were gathered around, and they were talking about heroism and how at some point in everyone’s life, you’ve got to act heroically. A young man there spied an elderly lady sitting off in a corner and she was quiet, and he had no idea that her life had been one major tragedy after another, and with somewhat of a spirit of arrogance that young man turned to the older lady and said, “How about you, how do you practice heroism?” She said “I? I practice heroism by going on.” There are many of you in these pews this morning who are heroic, who practice the heroism of simply going on, going on in the face of major tragedy, trial, mockery, tribulation, monumental disappointment after disappointment, and yet you have not denied the faith and you have not turned your back on Christ. You simply go on, and I want to thank you for your witness, your encouragement to the rest of us.

You know, it was said that when they were making the movie “Ben-Hur,” Charlton Heston had to learn how to drive a chariot for the big race scene. Well, it is not easy to drive a Roman Chariot. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard it’s pretty tough, and Charlton Heston was not doing very well. It was taking him longer than they had hoped for him to learn to drive this chariot and he was feeling pressure. So finally one day he felt like he could make it around the track without the whole thing falling over, and he went to Cecil B. DeMille, the producer, and said, “I think I can drive the chariot, but I am not sure that I can win the race.” Then DeMille looked at him and said, “You just stay in the race; I’ll see to it that you win.” You know, those are Jesus’ words to you and me: “You just stay in the race, you stand firm, you stand fast, you stay at your post and you leave the rest to me. I’ll see that you win.” It is those who stand firm who will be saved.

Well, the last component to a waiting and expectant lifestyle as we await the return of Christ is found in Verse 14, where Christ lays out there before the apostles and before you and me a world missions vision. You know, if you attend here regularly, you may wonder why we talk all the time about missions at Central Pres. Why do they give nearly a third of their entire church budget to missions? Why are they on a track that is going to take that up to fifty percent early in the twenty-first century? Why are they always commissioning folks to go overseas on short-term missions projects? Why have they spent all the time and energy adopting this unreached people group? Well, to be honest with you, it all boils down to Verse 14 of the text in front of us this morning. You see, in this text, Jesus pretty clearly lays out that world evangelization is the prerequisite for his return. He says, “I’m not coming back until the gospel of my return and the fulfillment of my kingdom, ’til that gospel is proclaimed to every nation.”

The Greek word there is ethnos, which is not nations, political nations as we understand it today; those borders change. Ethnos refers to ethnic groups– people groups. He says, “I’m not coming back, not until every one of them believes the gospel; no, not until every ethnos group has heard the gospel.” So we look at the world vision and do you know what we see? We see that over half of the world’s population, near three billion people, have never even heard of the name Jesus, let alone the gospel. We are liable to realize that and go, “What can we do? That’s overwhelming, why don’t we just pack it up? Why don’t we divert that money for doing something else? This is a lost cause.”

Is it? Is it a lost cause? Take another look at Verse 14, because right there we have the guarantee from no less than Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the guarantee that the world mission enterprise of the church of Jesus Christ will be successful. Christ doesn’t say, “If the gospel is preached to all nations, then I will return.” He says, “When it will be proclaimed to all nations.” It’s a guaranteed thing, folks. So what we are doing here at Central is merely our one small part. Your prayers and your dollars have placed evangelists on the field in Burma who are traveling by foot, by bike and by vehicle over hilly jungles taking the gospel to the (deleted-group-name) people. It is your money and your prayers that have established a school where (deleted-group-name) children and adults can become literate and read the Bible. Your money and your prayers are helping the (deleted-group-name) people learn how to grow other cash crops than just opium. Your prayers and your dollars are planting churches there in the Golden Triangle area. Your dollars and your prayers are producing a new translation of the Bible in the (deleted-group-name) language; that is what you are doing! So yes, we are passionate about missions here at Central because Jesus is passionate about missions.

And if nothing else, Verse 14 reminds me that the old saying is really true, that you either are a missionary or you need one. You’re a missionary, if in the slightest way you are involved in the world mission enterprise of the church of Jesus Christ. It may be just by praying for world missions or for a particular missionary. “Just” praying–ha, ha, ha, you and I have no idea what happens when you and I pray! Ask a missionary if they would rather have your money or your prayers and I’ll tell you what they will say: your prayers. Every week on our family altar page we have the name of a missionary. When you and I covenant with God to pray for that missionary every week, things will happen! Or you participate in the world mission enterprise when you allocate some of your resources for world missions financially; or your time. Or if you open yourself to God’s call upon your life and are willing to go on a short or long-term mission project as you are going to hear from Piete DeSmit later in the service about how God has impacted his life.

You know, Scott Corey, sitting right there, took early retirement from C&P telephone and has become a missionary to the inner city of Baltimore leading our Habitat for Humanity crews down there. Dave and Jan Turnbaugh quit their jobs because they heard God’s call upon their lives and they are now the directors of the Christian Community Center downtown. Open yourself up; you never know what God is going to do there. Or how about writing to missionaries? Do you know what a letter to a missionary means? Do that. Or visiting missionaries. John and Charlotte Butler, before they went on their trip to Southeast Asia two weeks ago, let me know that they were going out of their way to hook up with the Thompsons, Wannee and Neil, at the OMF hospital in Manorom. I didn’t know if they did and at the 8:30 service I mentioned this to be their vision and I didn’t know if they had gotten back. I ran into John between services and I said, “Did it happen?” and he said it was the highlight of their trip. They went about six hours out of the way up and back from Bangkok to Manorom and were there to encourage Neil and Wannee and their family. But they came back even more encouraged than the Thompsons. The highlight of their trip!

You see, as you and I await the return of Christ, the key question is, “How are you and I plugged into world missions?” It doesn’t have to be spectacular, it can be the little things. How are you going, or helping or enabling others to go? That’s the key question, because Christ is coming and he is going to return and so even though you and I don’t have all the answers, we do have our marching orders. And so we go, we go.

Join me as we pray.
“Father, we thank you that you extend to us the privilege of partnering with you in your world missions enterprise. Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit would stir up in us today an even greater passion to see the gospel proclaimed to every people group on this earth, that they would come to know you and love you and enjoy eternal life. Lord, we pray for all our missionaries around the globe, for their spiritual and physical health and strength, and that you would continue to use them and continue to use us to be encouragers of them until you come again. For we ask it all in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

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