November 26, 2017
Generally Baptists do not adhere to the Christian calendar in a rigid way. The early Christians began to worship on Sunday since Jesus rose on the first day of the week. But they also commemorated the day of Christ’s resurrection once a year. At the Council of Nicea in 325 it was determined that Easter would be observed after the first full moon which follows the spring equinox.
One can see how, along with Easter, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Lent could be added. Eventually Advent and Christmas came along and slowly the Christian calendar developed. In 1925 a new day was added to the calendar. It is called Christ the King Sunday. The Catholic Church added this day in response to the increasing secularization of the world in which many began to doubt Christ’s authority and existence. Clearly, this secularization has continued and the church of Jesus Christ has been pushed further and further onto the fringe of society. And that brings us to this morning, the last Sunday in the church year. Today is Christ the King Sunday.
Today I would like us to consider Mt.23:37-24:14. This is part of the Olivet Discourse in which Jesus discusses the challenging days between his 1st and 2nd comings. He gives us a sense about what we as believers can expect as we wait for his 2nd coming. And while we may not understand everything that Jesus says in these verses, we get a very clear sense that the time between his 1st and 2nd comings is filled with trouble for believers. And this leads me to say that in these troubled times believers must be faithful to Jesus Christ, our King.
I. JESUS, ALONE, IS THE WAY TO GOD. Mt.23:37-24:2
At the end of Mt.23, Jesus is in the temple area and he laments over Jerusalem. He laments because Israel rejected him. He came to his own, presenting himself as God’s anointed King, but his own did not receive him. And Jesus predicted that a time was coming when Jerusalem and the temple would lie desolate. In fact he says that this desolation would not end until his 2nd coming.
As Jesus and his disciples make their way to the Mount of Olives which overlooks the temple and the city, the disciples call Jesus’ attention to the magnificent buildings of the temple. “Isn’t it magnificent?”
Notice what Jesus says, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." In this statement Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and specifically the destruction of the temple. We know that Jerusalem was overrun by Rome in 70 AD. The temple was utterly destroyed and while there have been some efforts to try to rebuild the temple, it has never been rebuilt.
Now think about the purpose of the temple. The temple is where the Lord caused his name to dwell in Israel. Israel gathered at the temple to worship God. The temple is where Israel offered sacrifices to God in order to make atonement for their sins and to give thanks to God. The temple is where the people of Israel came to meet God. With the destruction of the temple, the center of Jewish worship was gone.
In the life and teaching of Jesus a significant transition is made. You can see it in Mt.23:37. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Jesus is presenting himself as the One sent from God to be Israel’s King, and Savior. In Mt.12:6 Jesus refers to himself as one greater than the temple who is Lord of the Sabbath. In Mt.21, Jesus drives the money changers and animal merchants out of the temple area saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers." And finally, in Jn.2:19, when the religious leaders asked Jesus by what authority he was doing these things, Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” Do you see what is happening? Jesus is presenting himself as Israel’s new temple. The way to God is found in the person of Jesus. Jesus is now the center of worship. We meet God through Jesus. We find forgiveness of sins through Jesus. We worship God through Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh who died on the cross making atonement for our sins. What is more, he rose from the dead. He is the new, living temple through whom we come to know God.
Now I realize I am preaching to the choir here. Most, if not all, of us believe that Jesus is indeed the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through him. But having said that, I am aware that there are people who claim to know Christ but who think that there are other ways to get to God. There is nothing new about that idea. People have always believed that there are any number of ways to get to God. What concerns me is that even so called, Christians embrace this idea. The exclusivity of Christ as Savior, Lord, and King is abandoned because such a view is out of step with the times. In our post-Christendom era Christ is greatly diminished in the world and in the church. Jesus’ teaching about being the new way to God didn’t go over well in his day, and it does not go over well in our day either.
Men and women, it is Christ or nothing. God is far more gracious than any of us could ever be. But there is no entrance into the kingdom of God apart from Jesus Christ.
II. JESUS IS THE SOURCE OF TRUTH. Mt.24:3-8
When they heard Jesus say these things, the disciples wanted to know more. So they asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" They wanted to know when Jerusalem would be destroyed, and when Christ would return. Well, that question covers a long time span. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was rather imminent. If Jesus died sometime between 30-36 AD, the destruction of Jerusalem was just 40 years away. But their question extends to the time of Christ’s coming. As Jesus answers their question about the time of his coming, in v.36 he says, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” If I read this correctly, Jesus did not know the exact time of his coming. But between v.3-36 Jesus teaches about what his followers can expect until the time of his coming.
So in v.3-8 Jesus tells us that the time between his resurrection and his 2nd coming will be a time in which even his followers may be led astray. And it seems that Jesus identifies two ways by which doubt will enter into our minds.
For one thing, Jesus says that there will be many who will come in his name claiming to be the Christ, Messiah, savior-king. These would-be messiahs are not claiming to be Jesus. They are claiming to be saviors who come in the name of Jesus. In Judaism there have been a number of men who claimed to be the messiah. But we must not confine this to Judaism. Since the time of Jesus there have been many self-proclaimed messiahs. I would even include Islam. Muhammed did not claim to be Jesus, but he claimed to be the next prophet, like Jesus, sent by God. Many have been led astray. In 1954, Sun Myung Moon proclaimed himself to be a messiah. Moon said that, “when he was fifteen years old Jesus anointed him to carry out his unfinished work by becoming parent to all of humanity.” Moon founded the Unification Church. He died in 2012, but the church continues today. Many have been led astray. Any prophet or teacher who claims a special anointing from God and who calls attention to themselves and not exclusively to Jesus is a false prophet who will lead many astray. Such people are charismatic, confident and persuasive. They may even quote from the Bible. Do not be deceived. Jesus Christ is the truth and his teachings are the foundation of our lives because he is the truth, the King, Lord of heaven and earth.
A second source of doubt comes from world events. Jesus points out that the time between his 1st and 2nd coming will be a time filled with wars in which nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. Not only that, but there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. In other words, these are turbulent days, filled with political and natural chaos. Jesus wanted to assure his followers that no matter what happens they should not doubt his coming. When disaster strikes, when the world seems to be crumbling all around us, we must not be led astray. In Jn.16:33 Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Men and women, the truth is in Jesus. We must listen to him.
III. JESUS IS THE FOCUS OF OUR LOVE. Mt.24:9-14
I find these verses to be especially pertinent for our day. Jesus warns us that events will conspire to cause our love to grow cold. What might cause our love for Jesus Christ and others to grow cold? In v.9 Jesus talks about persecution. His followers will be hated by all nations and may even be put to death.
Some years ago I was here on a Saturday in old clothes doing some work in the sanctuary. A very well dressed man came into the church and began to question me about the beliefs of our church. He specifically asked about our beliefs concerning the rapture. I told him that people in our congregation have different views and that I myself hold to a post tribulational rapture of the church. He did not like that and let me know it. I suggested he try another church. I surely could be wrong about the rapture. In the Olivet Discourse I don’t find any teaching about the rapture. What that tells me is that until Jesus comes, we should expect tribulation and persecution for his sake. In the United States we do not yet know what it is to experience real persecution. But believers in the Middle and Far East certainly do. They have been living in severe tribulation for many years.
In v.12 Jesus refers to lawlessness. In other words, people will do what is right in their own eyes, following their own selfish desires. Lawlessness causes distress. Because lawlessness is driven by selfishness and pride, there is little room for love. And just to remind us, love is a selfless commitment to the good and flourishing of another. Love is not grounded in warm feelings. Warm feelings may or may not be there.
Selfish people will struggle to be loving people. We see this right now as well-known men are identified as sexual predators. Their actions are self-serving at the expense of the good and flourishing of the women they have assaulted. Wherever personal desire is combined with power and privilege, by in large, the people of this world will be lovers of themselves.
So, if because of lawlessness the love of most will grow cold, what does that tell us about how we as followers of Christ are to live? In these verses Jesus makes it clear that our priorities are to be focused on love, faithfulness, and the gospel. Notice in v.13 that Jesus says it is the one who endures to the end who will be saved. In other words, followers of Christ are focused on being faithful to Jesus in all of life until the Lord comes or we die. Our status and success in this world is of little significance if we are not faithful to Jesus.
Again, in v.14 Jesus calls our attention to the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Our gospel proclamation must be packaged in our faithful living. The way we live is to adorn the gospel gift extended to all in Jesus Christ. And that brings us back to love.
We are to be people characterized by love. The only way this will be true of us is if we are focused on loving Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ gives his love to us and models how to show his love to others. And when I look at Jesus, I see that while many received him, many more did not. Those who did not receive him rejected him. And when he was rejected, falsely accused, and crucified, he did not fight back. He could surrender his life, because his life was situated in the kingdom of God, just as ours is.
If we are not careful, our outrage at the political and social failures of our society will eat us up and our love will also grow cold. We will be distracted in our love for Jesus Christ our King because we have made an idol out of power, wealth, and comfort. As this present age presses in on us, will we be people of love?
Bernard of Clairvaux was born to wealthy parents in central France. His mother taught him the virtues of justice, mercy, and love for others. When he was 17 his mother died and Bernard began to experience a profound conversion to Christ. In 1112 A.D. he entered a Benedictine monastery. Three years later he established a monastery at Clairvaux, and went on to establish other monasteries. He became well known for his preaching. But the focus of his life was on knowing God and serving others. He wrote the following hymn: Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts, Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men, From the best bliss that earth imparts, We turn unfilled to Thee again.
Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood; Thou savest those that on Thee call; To them that seek Thee Thou art good, To them that find Thee all in all.
We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread, And long to feast upon Thee still; We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead, And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.” Is Jesus the joy of your loving heart? Will you be found faithful to Christ our King? Amen