Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Waiting for The 2nd Coming of Jesus
Volume 6 No. 375 Sept 16, 2016
II. Lectionary Reflections

The Lord Whose Words Will Never Pass Away

by Geoff Thomas

Mark 13:31 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."

We know that the Lord Jesus Christ made a great impression on people. They were struck by his whole personality; they had never met a man of such integrity, kindness and purity. They were also staggered by his mighty works; he never failed to heal any sick person who came to him however advanced the disease; he had banished illness from Galilee. But most of all people were impressed by his teaching. No one they'd ever heard spoke to them as Jesus did, and the challenge Christ presents to us lies, above everything else, in his words. His way of speaking, his unusual expressions, and above all how he referred to himself and the extraordinary claims which he made were all provocative.

For example, in the words of our text notice that Jesus doesn't say that the words of Moses and the prophets would endure for ever, but his words, what he had just said to them, would never pass away. He sat with them on that hill overlooking the temple in all his ordinariness as a man; they had met his mother and the rest of his family. There was nothing distinctive about his outward appearance; no halo; no Hollywood beauty; no Mr. Pretty Face. They had seen him tired, thirsty, angry and crying, having to perform the normal bodily functions of any other man, and yet he made this claim,

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (v.31).

There is nothing common about a man who makes a claim like that. Such a man might be a deceiver, telling lies in order to gain influence over multitudes of gullible people, hungry for fame and power – but laying down his life? That isn't the work of a wicked man. Maybe Jesus was a lunatic – a kind of megalomaniac or a holy fool, but there again someone who preaches the Sermon on the Mount is hardly insane. If he is neither crazy nor evil then Christians believe that Jesus is what he claimed to be.

The great challenge of the gospel, I say, is Jesus Christ's self-consciousness or self-presentation. What we see in these words is not a one-off claim to divinity tucked away in this single verse. I want to show you today that such amazing words as these actually are representative or typical of his entire ministry. In other words, in a multitude of ways, some subtle and others in your face, the Lord Jesus presented himself to people as someone who was more than a human being. He was always conscious that he was not a man only, but he was also the Son of the Father. We get our first hint of this in the one incident in the gospels concerning the boy Jesus.


There is no hint in the gospels that his head had been turned by the ground swell of adulation, and the vast crowds that hung on to every word he said day after day. It was not that the simple healer and rabbi from Galilee became puffed up, giving himself exalted views of his own identity. Rather, from the beginning, and at every stage of his life his self-understanding is extraordinary, and this was true even as a boy. Luke opens one window on the 12 year-old Jesus when he was taken to a feast in Jerusalem and Jesus got separated from his parents. When they returned to Jerusalem a day or two later searching for him they found him in the temple talking with the teachers of the law asking these rabbis profound questions, and speaking to them with an unusual dignity and insight. When his parents expostulated with him he replied,

"Why were you searching for me? . . . Didn't you know that I had to be in my Father's house?" (Lk. 2:49).

His self-consciousness that he was his Father's Son was the most potent, single factor in his life, and if we ignore that we will never understand him. Jesus wanted to yield full obedience to God as a boy, to be about God's business. Before he was a man of God he was a boy of God. He was saying then, "Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee." That was the chief characteristic of his entire life, and it is there in his pre-teen years, even at that stage of his existence. Then he was conscious that he was walking with destiny.

But he rubbed shoulders constantly with other people, some of them important to him, his mother and the man she was married to, both of whom he must honor all his days. Jesus had to live within such a tension all his life – as we do. We are aware that we are presenting our bodies to God as our reasonable service, that we are to love him above everything else, and yet we work in an open plan office with our colleagues. Maybe we are the only member of our family who is a disciple of Christ, and sometimes we have to do and say things that show we aren't going in the same direction as they are. We love our work mates and classmates and our family members as we love ourselves, but we love God with all our hearts. Perhaps we became Christians when we were twelve years of age and then throughout our teens there were pressures on us from family and friends to go another way. Yet here is Christ and he is reminding his mother, no less, that he has a Father in heaven, and this Father's work has first place in his life, and he must seize every opportunity to grow in understanding of his Father and the business his Father has for him.


We are now moving on to consider our Lord's public ministry when he went about teaching and preaching. Often our Lord began his sayings with such a phrase as "I tell you the truth" (v.30). The prophets usually prefaced their words with the phrase "Thus says the Lord . . ." but our Lord never said that. He speaks on his own authority. He never thinks it's necessary to appeal to something higher to get his hearers to listen and believe him.

Solely on the basis of his own authority he spoke on the Sabbath, on divorce, on oaths, on the right understanding of the law, and always there was this refrain, "But I say unto you." The rabbis always sheltered behind other rabbinical teachings and schools. Their traditions gained authority when they were supported by the views of some dead rabbi, but the Lord Jesus never quoted a rabbi, and never appealed to another writer. He never told people to go to Moses, or to the prophets. "Come unto me," he said, and then he promised what he would do for them if they came. Or he would arouse their attention like this, "Listen to me everyone, and understand this . . ." (Mk.7:14). Then he would go ahead and teach them. He was conscious that his words had authority in themselves. They didn't need to be propped up by other greater teachers. He spoke as if he were God himself.

There is a contemporary Jewish writer whose name is Ben-chorin and he wrote a book about Jesus in 1967 and it is this feature about Christ that perplexes him so much. The conclusion that he comes to is that Jesus must have quoted the rabbis; it would have been unthinkable for any Jew to speak like this but that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all expunged such references from their gospels. Ben-chorin's own views of Jesus require him to arrive at that theory.

Or again one of Christ's characteristic phrases were the words "Amen, Amen." The Authorised Version translates those words "Verily, verily." You know the context; Jesus is making some statement that glows with authority, freshly minted, and utterly convincing in itself, for example his words to Nicodemus, "no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (Jn. 3:3). That is striking enough, but he actually prefaces that statement with the words, "Verily, verily I say unto you," or "Amen! Amen! No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." The "Amen, Amen" actually endorses the truthfulness of what he himself was about to say.

Speaking like that was entirely different from the way the Jews used the word 'Amen,' or even the way we use it. For both them and ourselves 'Amen' is the final word in a statement. It is an affirmation. It is a exclamation that follows a blessing or a curse or marriage vows or a word of praise. What was completely new about the way Jesus used the word 'Amen' was that he began many of his statements, with this "Amen!" The word is almost like inverted commas that bring to the people extraordinarily important words from God. There is no parallel to this in any literature of the time; neither the historians like Josephus, nor the rabbis, nor the apocryphal writers used 'Amen' to begin their words. Only the Lord Jesus.

Let me ask this question. To whom is Christ saying 'Amen'? Who is the Lord Jesus endorsing? When Mr. Ron Goodfellow was alive he would occasionally Amen what I was preaching. "I agree wholeheartedly, and this is important fellow members," he'd be inferring. Others of you do the same. I myself say Amen when I am moved by preaching. But who was Jesus saying Amen to? His enemies said that it was to Beelzebub. Others thought they were indications of religious mania, but the Lord Christ was getting the people used to the idea that he was bringing them a message from the God whose words he agreed with 100 per cent. He was speaking in accordance to what the Father knew and now wanted us to know through Jesus his messenger.

We think it is quite striking when Jesus begins a sentence with the word, "Yes!" I counted ten occasions in the gospels when Christ said something like this, "Yes Father, for this was your good pleasure" (Matt. 11:26). He was endorsing the Father with that 'yes', adding his 'Amen' to what the Father said. Christ often stood alone, but his ministry wasn't a one man show. He said on one occasion, "I stand with the Father who sent me" (Jn. 8:16). In this world he was conscious that he was the spokesman and ambassador and apostle of God. God was always with him, and sometimes he would even use the pronoun 'we', his Father and he were both speaking to men. For example when he speaks to Nicodemus in John 3 he says, "I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony" (Jn. 3:11). This was not a solo performance; it was a duet. Two people, Father and Son, were bringing the identical message to the world and to people whom they both loved with the same love. That is the status the Lord Jesus believed he had.


When the Lord Jesus refers to his ministry in this world he speaks just like a fictional 'extraterrestrial' who is visiting our planet. He says,

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets . . . do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth . . . the Son of Man did not come to be served . . . I did not come to judge the world but to save it . . . the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost . . . I have come in my Father's name and you do not accept me . . . ".

What does that mean? It means that he came to this world from somewhere else. He says that he comes from above. He knows exactly where he comes from. He has come into the world and then he will leave it once again and return to the Father and he prays that his people might see the glory he had with God before the foundation of the world. His apostle Paul later wrote, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (I Tim. 1:15).

"Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me.
But in Bethlehem's home
Was there found no room
For Thy glorious nativity.
O come to my heart Lord Jesus.
There is room in my heart for Thee."

So the Lord is challenging us to think about his origin.

Here is a man whose teaching is remarkable, his miracles are many, immense and unique; he has power over men, over the winds and waves and the fish of the sea, over disease and over death itself.

What sort of man is this? Though he was crucified, dead and buried, on the third day he rose from the grave. His birth was like none other's; he was conceived by the virgin Mary, but he was begotten by the Holy Spirit. His resurrection and ascension was like none other's. Where did this man come from?

There is nothing ordinary about Jesus at all. He is not like any other man. Such a person, different from any other person in all the history of mankind, comes from his Father. He came from heaven.

You remember how John begins his gospel,

"In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God, the same was in the beginning with God, all things were made by him" (Jn. 1:1&2).

The crowds in Galilee and Jerusalem didn't want to repent and come to him, and the reason they gave was that they knew where he came from, Nazareth! His father was a carpenter there. So surely he couldn't be the Messiah, because, they said,

"When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from" (Jn.7:27).

In their imagination the Messiah would be raised up out of the blue on the stage of Israel's history. There he'd be, shining and glorious, absolutely breathtaking, driving his enemies into the sea, and everyone would say, "What gory, and no one knows where he's come from."

But this man Jesus? He could be dismissed because the people all knew where our Lord came from, "Jesus from Nazareth; the son of a carpenter. Can any good thing come out of Galilee?" But then their dilemma was this, how could a man have gained all this wisdom and authority who had spent thirty years – his entire life – in a one horse village like Nazareth. Our Lord claimed that he came into the world from heaven.


Men and women who met Christ often bowed down before him. When John the Baptist was confronted with the Lord Jesus in the river Jordan he was overwhelmed at meeting him. He felt his unworthiness saying he wasn't worthy to untie Jesus' shoelaces. What was he doing in baptizing Jesus? John ought to be the one baptized by him. "I must decrease and he must increase." said John. Jesus too recognized the anomaly; "Let's just allow it be like that for now," he said. That self-abasement before Christ set a pattern for the whole ministry of our Lord. The wise men bowed down and worshipped him when he was a child. Men fall down before him on the road, in a boat, in a synagogue. Women knelt at his feet and wept, washing his feet with their tears and wiping them with their hair, and Jesus allowed them to carry on doing that. Think of it! One of his apostles said to him, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man of Lord." Yet we can understand that response can't we? That is a proper reaction to this great holy man who had come from God.

Yet self-abasement was never Jesus' response to anybody else. He never bowed down before another. I don't appreciate preachers who treat other preachers as inferior men, who attend conferences only when they are the speakers. I esteem modesty and humility in a preacher very highly. If you felt I was full of myself you'd get nothing out of my preaching, would you? My pride would be such a barrier any words I spoke could never touch your heart. If I strutted my stuff in this congregation as if I were the greatest that would be the end of my ministry. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Here is Jesus of Nazareth who has time and inclination to hold children in his arms, who rebukes his disciples for driving their mothers away. Here is Jesus of Nazareth who enters Jerusalem as the Messiah but by riding on the back of a donkey. What an anti-climax. Here is Jesus of Nazareth taking a towel and a basin of water and he kneels down before twelve men one by one and he washes and dries the feet of all of them. Here is Jesus of Nazareth who on the cross prays for those crucifying him, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do," and yet he is the one who tells a congregation that he is greater than Solomon, that one greater than Jonah is before them. When he speaks to the Samaritan woman he suggests to her that he is greater than the patriarch Jacob. Abraham lived to see his day, and he saw it and was glad. Moses simply brought the law but he brought grace and truth. The prophets had lived and died, but whoever believed in him would never taste death. They said to him, "Who do you think you are?" (John 8:53). Who does he think he is? Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I am" (Jn. 8:58). They knew what he was saying and some of them went scurrying off to find some stones to throw at him.

Can you see this extraordinary juxtaposition in one man of personal meekness and yet a self-consciousness of eternal majesty and greatness? The incredible thing is this, that we do not find those two characteristics of Jesus of Nazareth impossible to reconcile to one another. There is nothing schizophrenic about this eternal and glorious divine being who yet dies in abandonment upon the cross. That is why he came into the world. That is the grace of God. That is the love of the eternal Son. That is the Christianity we proclaim.


Jesus' language is often vivid and concrete. He takes a vast series of images and he applies them all to himself. He is not making observations about nature, and the cosmos, and the human condition like a Shakespeare. He is constantly talking about himself. Some of these we miss as we read them because we are used to applying them to our own lives.

  • For example, he is the sower who went forth to sow the word of God.
  • He is the preeminent hunter of men who can make us fishers of men too when we follow him.
  • He is the tiny mustard seed whose body was buried in a borrowed grave in Jerusalem 2000 years ago but whose kingdom now fills the whole world.
  • He is the narrow gate; by him we enter into the experience of God and his blessing.
  • He is the shepherd who seeks and saves that which was lost..

He says that he is the bread of heaven, that is, God's food for the souls of men. "I am the bread of life," he says, in other words, you can't live if you're not eating this diet. The food of life is Jesus. You are just existing without him.

"I am the light of the world," he says. What a staggering claim to make about yourself! Everyone lives in perpetual darkness who drives him out of their lives.

He says that he is the gate for the sheep, as well as being the good shepherd. Are you facing the future without the Lord Jesus leading and providing for you? Who will bring you back when you go astray? A sheep is utterly without defense; it can't run like a deer or burrow like a rabbit; it hasn't sharp teeth, nor any claws, nor a thick leathery skin; it can't climb trees to escape; it can't spit poison. A sheep desperately needs a shepherd's protection, and all of us do. How can you face the future without a Sovereign Protector? "I am the only good shepherd," Christ claims. He says this also, "I am the resurrection and the life;" he is talking about the last enemy, death. Who can deliver you from death? Can your politician, your therapist, your medical doctor? Will the scientist ever do it? Will there be a super-drug that will deliver us from death itself? Never! The millionaire can't buy deliverance from it, but Christ says, "I am the resurrection and the life." On the third day he who raised Lazarus from the dead himself arose. He claims, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me." Without the way where are you going? Without the truth what do you know? Without the life there is no living. Who is this man who can make incredible claims like this?


i] Son of Man.

He called himself "the Son of Man" hundreds of times, fifty of which are recorded in the gospels. It wasn't a title that he began to use at the end of his ministry. From the very beginning – John chapter one, Mark chapter two – he refers to himself as the Son of Man and then right through to the end of his ministry – Matthew 26 – he tells those who put him on trial, "In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matt. 26:64). He is saying to them constantly and defiantly, right into the face of their early credulity, "I am the one Daniel saw coming in the clouds with great glory." He even interrogates his disciples like this, "Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?"

I say that in fifty places the phrase is recorded in the gospels, and outside the gospels? Once! Just at the stoning of Stephen before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. He cries, "I can see the Son of Man standing at God's right hand" (Acts 7:56) (the references to 'son of man' in Hebrews and Revelation refer to 'man', a real man, or to humanity in general. No one else ever used it to refer to Jesus, "Son of Man . . ." He alone used it to identify himself. "Who are you?" the crowd say in John 8:25. He tells them, three verses later, that they'll know soon enough, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man . . ." (Jn. 8:28). What a striking title! This title didn't fit into the people's expectations. Jesus deliberately chose a mysterious name to draw attention to himself. It was a virtually empty term and he took it and filled it with all his life and teaching and all his massive achievements. If you want to know what is the Son of Man, you must read the life of Jesus, and you must fall at his feet as one dead.

ii] Son of David.

You know the opening words of the whole New Testament, "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David" (Matt. 1:1). "The Son of David" is a royal title. A shoot that grew out of the stump of the tree of David would yet appear. What a marvellous king he would be, and so the people look at Jesus' life and signs and they begin to call him "Son of David;" "Hosanna to the Son of David" and Jesus never got angry with them or said, "I don't like highfalutin names like that. Just call me 'Jesus.'" Do you understand this great point which I have been constantly making? Let me say it like this, that we live in days when the world wants to shrink Jesus Christ, and one of the ways they try to do this is by a kind of sick flattery. In other words, they will say how much they admire Jesus, but that he was a humble man who taught and healed, but that he would be horrified to see the way people have set him up on a pedestal. They have got it completely wrong. He is the one who continually give himself these titles and makes these claims which would be unbelievable or sick if you or I would make them. Let me go on to some other titles to show this:

iii] The Messiah.

Messiah is a Hebrew word for 'the anointed one', and the title 'Christ' is the Greek word for 'the anointed one.' Who is the one anointing him? God. Anointed by God. Jesus is the divinely anointed one and from the very beginning of his ministry this is how he was known. In John 1 Andrew says to his brother Simon, "we have found the Messiah." A few years later many people left Jesus' congregation and he asked his disciples if they were also going to leave him; "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Jn. 6:69). And not much later than this Jesus goes to the graveside of Lazarus and meets Martha Lazarus' sister there, and she says to Jesus, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world" (Jn. 11:27). Even the Samaritans who are brought by the woman at the well to listen to Jesus say to him afterwards, "We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world, the Christ" (Jn 4:29). Everyone knew that this was his special title, and so the jealous Pharisees decided that anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Christ should be thrown out of the synagogue. This was the charge they brought to Pilate about him that he claimed to be the Christ, a king. Jesus not only accepted this title but when Peter in Caesarea Philippi confessed him to be the Christ the Son of the living God Jesus praised him and said that God, his Father in heaven, had revealed this to him.

iv] The Son of God.

There were hundreds of people baptized by John in the river Jordan, but to one only a voice from heaven rang out and said, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." That divine discrimination set Jesus apart from every other person. It was not John the Baptist who did it; not men. God did it. Jesus has God as his Father. A fish has a fish as its father and so it has scales and gills and all things fishy. A bird has a bird for its father and so it has feathers and wings and a beak and things that pertain to birds. A child has a man for its father and so has a body, a brain, a soul, a conscience, creativity, and eternity in its heart, in fact all things human. This Jesus has as his Father God himself! So everything that God has Jesus Christ has, omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, omnicompetence. Jesus creates, he preserves, he saves, he resurrects, and he judges. He is God the Son. That is why they attempted to stone him to death, that he, being man made himself God. They could see the implications of his sayings. When he claimed, "I and my Father are one," how else could that be interpreted? When at the end Thomas falls at his feet in worship and cries, "My Lord and my God" then what is Jesus' response? Does he say, "Blasphemy! How dare you say that to me. Don't put me up on a pedestal, I am a man like you. Get up on your feet man. God only is your God. Worship him!" No Jesus does not. He says nothing to dumb down those extraordinary words. Jesus accepts the title of God the Son. You are still unconvinced. You say, "But does he anywhere say specifically, 'I am God's Son'?" Yes. In John's gospel there is a record of him talking with the Jews and he says to them, "Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son.' (Jn. 10:36).

Of course, Jesus' relationship to his Father is not the same as our adopted relationship to the Father. Everyone's favourite Scottish preacher, the late Douglas MacMillan, said something helpful on this theme of God the Son and God the Father in his fine Highland preaching. "To the Father, Jesus is supremely and uniquely 'Son', and to Jesus, God is supremely and uniquely 'Father'. That is to say, only Jesus and God the Father stand thus related to one another. This 'Fatherhood' and this 'Sonship' are unique and confined to this relationship. Both differ from all others in their essential being, in that it involves a unity unknown elsewhere. It is their unity of being which explains their full, mutual understanding. They are in no sense a mystery to each other; instead, they know each other fully; nothing in the one is hidden from the other. What Jesus claims here is a supernatural, divine consciousness, for only if that is really present is he a mysterious being who can be known only by God. The other side of the equation applies in the same way; only because Jesus is God, can he know the Father in this unique way. This is a clear claim to deity. It is a revelation of his own deep, positive sense of divine Sonship" (Douglas MacMillan, "Jesus, Power without Measure" (Bryntirion Press 1990, p.55).

So gentle Jesus, meek and mild, created and suggested these divine titles and accepted them from men.


Our Lord taught his disciples to pray and he said to them that they must always say this, "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Jesus taught them to ask for forgiveness. The Bible is full of examples of men of God confessing their sin to God. Many of the psalms are of men pleading for mercy from God. Jesus tells us of a sinful tax-collector who in the temple looked down at the dust and beat his breast and cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner." He left the temple a justified man, Jesus said. Yet he himself never beat his breast and asked God for mercy.

It is obvious that Jesus had a very tender conscience. Part of his teaching, which has challenged the world, is that you can break God's law in your heart, and by your imagination. You might never have done or said anything that appeared sinful. It might never have registered by a look on your face, but if it is received and kept in your heart then it is sin. Jesus never ignored the root cause of all of men's misery, that before we actually did or said bad things we had already given them a place in our own lives, and that is sin. So the Lord Jesus was always preaching a radical change of nature, a birth from above, a new heart which was man's greatest need; not outward washing but inward cleansing is our priority. We have an inward inability to please God, and an inward hostility to him, and every single person needs regeneration in order to believe and be saved

But there is something more about Jesus' analysis of sin and it is this, that one of the most evil and dangerous traits of the human heart is to cover over or deny our sins. You need to turn in repentance from your sins to God. You must confess your wickedness to him, that you have been wrong, that you have done wrong. When Jesus met the Pharisees who preened themselves that they were not like other men, that they were righteous, he was absolutely scathing about them – whitewashed sepulchres full of dead men's bones, children of hell, a colony of snakes. "Woe to you . ." he said time and again. He lashed their hypocrisy, and self-satisfaction, and smugness, and blindness. That is what stirred his anger against them, their readiness to stand up and condemn others and yet to think themselves free of sin. He warned them that God knew their hearts.

This Jesus, to whom the crowning sin was to deny they had any sin, said this about his relationship with God, "I always do what pleases him" (Jn.8:29). Imagine it! Always, 24/7, Jesus did exactly what God wanted. He never did, nor said, nor imagined anything sinful. Tempted every day just as we are and in all points, but he never received those sins with lingering lust into his heart. He believed he was free from sin, but more than that, his friends who saw him day and night for three years believed that he was without sin, and even God said, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Christ could challenge his opponents to point out to him anything wrong he had done. Even at the end of his life – and the older we grow the greater our groans about our sins, and the more our conscience seems to convict us – Jesus could say to his Father, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do" (Jn. 17:4). In other words, Jesus believed that there were no sins of omission in his life.

What can you say about him? That he was the most deluded man in the world, or that he was very clever in hiding his sins from the people he lived with, or that he actually was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners, the Lamb of God without spot or blemish, that he needed no sacrifice for his own sins for he had none, and so he could lay down his life for us for our sins which are many. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!


So we come back to our text, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (v.31). You can see that these words are not just one staggering claim utterly alien to what the humble teacher Jesus normally said. You can see that it is absolutely typical of the Lord Christ. He came to this earth commissioned to do so by God the Father as his only begotten Son, and through his life he always did and said the things with which God was pleased. He brought to us the very message our Creator wants all his creatures to know. There had been a time when God communicated by his prophets to the world, but now in these last days God is speaking to us by his Son, and Jesus got it right, always. There was no failure in the message; no breakdown in communication between God and us. We have exactly what God has to say to us because God has put it all in the hands of his Son.

If you hear Jesus speaking then you can hear what God is saying to the world. God speaks to us of his power and glory and divinity in this vast cosmos which he has made, but to know of his message of grace and love he has entrusted this theme to Jesus Christ, not only to his words but to his actions, and we all know that actions speak louder than words. Jesus' actions are saying to us, "Here is God's grand display of his love for sinners, that eternal life is ours if we turn from our sin and entrust ourselves to the salvation which Jesus Christ himself accomplished on Golgotha."

The Cross of Christ will endure for ever and ever. It is the Lamb looking as if it had been slain who is ever seated at the heart of heaven on the throne of God. The theme of the heavenly hosts who surround that throne is, "Unto him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood be glory and power for ever and ever." The unending theme of joy by the countless numbers in heaven will be the praise of Christ. The cross will never pass away, but the message of the cross in the words of Jesus will never pass away.

Have you seen how the world without Christ looks at its future, at an environmental catastrophe, the loss of fossil resources, the pollution of the land, sea and atmosphere, global warming leading to millions of environmental refugees in the next hundred years. Look at the world's foreboding as it thinks of the impact of a comet from one of the 2,000 asteroids whose orbits cross the path of the earth and then the resulting epic disaster. Look at the world considering the death of the sun; in 4.5 billion years all its available hydrogen fuel will be expended and it will begin to swell as a red giant and it will absorb the earth. Look at the world considering the expansion of the universe by some type of material or force called 'dark energy' so that the universe expands into 'heat death' and it becomes a cold, lifeless place full of dead stars. Look at the world considering the future and it just despairs. It is all going to pass away. Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg thinks it is all utterly futile, "The more the universe is comprehensible the more it seems pointless."

Atheist Bertand Russell said that, "the world which science presents for our belief is even more purposeless, more void of meaning . . . that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast depth of the solar system, and the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy that rejected them can hope to stand" (Bertrand Russell, "Why I am Not a Christian," George Allen and Unwin, 1957, p.107).

But here is this teacher Jesus Christ who tells us of what is going to last for ever, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." Believe it, for his life endorses it, his resurrection confirms it, the change he has worked in millions of people of all kinds who had lacked any hope in their futures, encourages you to take it so seriously.

They are ignorant weaklings needing some crutch, but men and women who have examined the extraordinary life of Jesus Christ, and their own lives of sin and failure, and they have heard his invitations of grace and gone to him and found the rest he promised. They know today by their own experience that his words, far from passing away, are true and saving. They live by these words, and die in the hope of their greater fulfillment in his presence.

Copyright © 2016 Alfred Place Baptist Church

Watchful Waiting

by Dan Myers

Gospel: Mark 13:33, 37

"Be on guard, be alert! You do not know when that time will come… keep watch… What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!' "
(Mark 13:33, 35, 37)

Do you have earthquake insurance? We've been hearing about the earthquakes in Oklahoma and even in Kansas – the one on November 12th registered 4.8 – I heard we had another one this Saturday, which registered 4.1! How "watchful" and "ready" are you for a large earthquake?

Do you have a weather alert radio? What about health insurance / car insurance / house insurance

Do you have smoke and fire detectors…maybe also CO2 detectors in your home?

Do you wear a seat belt when you are in a car? What about an alarm system for your home and business?

There are many ways that we are "watchful and ready" for things in this life – that we hope and pray will never happen. But what about our eternal life – our spiritual life with Jesus – that we KNOW WILL HAPPEN? (Why is it that so many in our world do so much about this temporary physical world and so little with the spiritual, eternal world?)

This weekend we begin the church season of Advent with the three-fold reminder that Jesus came (Christmas), He comes (Word & Sacraments), and He is coming again (as Savior or Judge).

We hear this Advent message as Jesus says: "It is like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back… If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping." (v.34-35)

"Sleeping" here doesn't just mean physical sleep, (although Jesus said to His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Watch and pray that you do not fall into temptation, the spirit is willing but the body is weak." And three times Jesus found His disciples sleeping!) In this parable, "sleep" refers to the very common indifference to the orders of the master; a flippant attitude acting as if we have the right to do whatever we want, regardless of what God says; living according to the sinful flesh, with no regard or obedience / even defiant to God's Word and will.

This Law message of our text speaks to those today who are living according to their sinful nature; in open, unrepentant sin. This is a very serious matter. In Hebrews 10, God's Word warns: "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God… It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:26-31)

What Good News – "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him." (John 3:17) Jesus knows us so well! Jesus knows our weakness – how "the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things." (Mark 4:19) become the focus of our lives.

We Need God's constant triple Advent reminders:

Jesus CAME – we celebrate this at Christmas, as we sing: "Once He came in blessing, All our sins redressing, Came in likeness lowly, Son of God most holy; Bore the cross to save us, Hope and freedom gave us."

Jesus COMES – Jesus knows our sinful nature and constant failures and so He graciously provides His renewing forgiveness by the Holy Spirit who gives us New Life through the daily reading and hearing of His Word; the daily contrition and repentance on account of His grace through our Baptism and the strengthening and keeping us in the true faith through regularly receiving Jesus body and blood in Holy Communion. "Still He comes within us; Still His voice would win us, From the sins that hurt us; Would to truth convert us, From our foolish error, Ere He comes in terror.;"


Jesus IS COMING AGAIN (the very necessary reminder of how near Judgment Day is – it might be today – are we ready?) Yes, we can be ready because He COMES to us daily (Word and Sacraments); we Eagerly Await Jesus Coming Again – not to punish us for our sins (He already took the full punishment for us) but in fulfillment of His promise, "(after) I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:3)

With the hymn writer we sing: "Those who then are loyal (kept faithful by God's grace) Find a welcome royal. Come, then, O Lord Jesus, From our sins release us; Let us here confess You, Till in heaven we bless You."

Our "watchful and waiting" for Jesus' second coming is totally different from our getting ready for Christmas. Some people literally wear themselves out rushing here and there. But God grants peace and joy to His children for He has already done all of the preparations. The apostle Paul writes:

"I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in Him you have been enriched in every way… Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, (through the regular use of His Means of Grace – Word and Sacraments) so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Corinthians 1:4, 7-9)

Remaining "watchful and waiting" with you; joyfully and eagerly expecting Jesus' second coming!

"Amen, come Lord Jesus!"

About The Author:

Dan Myers is Associate Pastor at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Wichita, KS

Eschatological Itching

by Prof. Dr. Dr. David Zersen, President Emeritus
Concordia University at Austin

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house in charge of his servants, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back - whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: "Watch!" (NIV)


The worst case of poison ivy I ever caught was in a place where people were accustomed to itching. Actually, I mean this figuratively rather than physically. For a number of years, our family took vacations in places where people had gathered in communities to wait for the end of the world. They were eschatological communities, communities that anticipated the "eschaton" or the end of all things. We visited Ephrata in Pennsylvania, New Economy in New York, Shakertown in Kentucky and New Harmony in Indiana. (That's where I caught the poison ivy.) Possessed by what some have called an "eschatological itch," the people who lived in these now vacant villages gave up possessions, marriage, personal ambitions and many other things. They didn't just sit around doing nothing, however. Some of their efforts are well known. The Shakers, for example, made contributions to music, architecture, furniture, cattle breeding, crop hybridizing, etc. I became fascinated with these groups who waited so fervently for the end of time. They have all died out, since they produced no future generations. And with them, much of the talk about end times in our culture has disappeared. Occasionally, we hear some discussion about it, as we did at the turn of the millennium, or when Aunt Mary gives her analysis of the meaning of all the hurricanes. By and large, however, eschatological itching seems to be a thing of the past - unless, of course, we've missed something that the first Sunday in Advent gives us a chance to explore today. The new church year actually invites us to reflect on the meaning of time and our place in it.


The season of Advent combines a number of unrelated emphases. Although most of us have come to think of it as a season preparing us for the birth of Christ, it originally had quite a different emphasis. In the early church, Advent began a time of repentance and preparation for the church's second most important time for baptisms, Jan. 6. Christmas celebrations as such didn't really take place until the fourth century. Our text today really takes us back to those early days in which Christians renounced the sin over which God's judgement stood, and prepared to accept the new birth in Christ.

Behind such remembrance, there is a specific concept of time, and it's helpful to reflect on the meaning of time in this context. Basically, there are two approaches to time. One can assume that time is cyclic or circular, that it continues forever. There are various religious perspectives that operate with such a concept. In Hinduism, for example, there is always another day, another opportunity, another lifetime within which one can continue to practice the perfect living which may ultimately lead to Nirvana. The other concept of time is linear. It assumes that time has a goal, a destination, and then it is no more. Within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, time is linear. Such a perspective encourages at least two things. One is a sense of urgency. In the text for today, the parable says that people are not just to sit around waiting for the master to return. They are to keep busy with their assigned tasks. In the old General Prayer of the Lutheran church, there were these ominous, ringing words:

"Help us to do the work it is ours to do while it is day before the night cometh when no man can work!"

Even as a child, I knew that had something to do with the final darkness at which words could only hint.

The other thing encouraged by a sense of linear time is living with a sense of yearning for what is to come. The eschatological vision of Scripture has always pointed us toward a future in which injustices are righted; in which the divisions caused by race, nationality, greed, hostility, sickness and sorrow are set aside. This is not just good news for people in Darfur where starvation is imminent or Baltic ports in Ukraine where AIDS is now proportionately higher than anywhere else in the world. This is good news for you and me as well. And unlike the good news promised by many a prosperity evangelist on TV who assures that God's will for us is riches and success, this is good news that assures that life has a goal, a destination, a final harbor, and a kingdom coming with lasting dimensions. Knowing what the future holds because Christ's death and resurrection have assured our place in it is at the heart of our Christian confidence. We seek to allow Christ to make present in and through us, here already, now already, those characteristics of the coming Kingdom that have lasting dimensions to them. We have an eschatological itch to realize the promised future here already, now already. We can see it coming.

It may be fun to joke around about people carrying signs announcing the end of the world. Or to put up billboards saying "God is coming - and boy is he mad!" It's quite another matter, however, to reflect on the meaning of linear time and to think not just about its ultimacy, but also about the kind of ethic which such a concept allows. The self-centered or careless values to which Jesus gave the death sentence at the cross are replaced by new values which will be realized completely once God's kingdom has finally come and time is no more. We have the privilege to capture a sense of that kingdom's power and grace even now - and that's no joke!


As we reflect on the impact of linear time on our lifestyle, this parable brings another dimension to our thinking. One might think that the servants who are told to watch for the master's return need to wait in fear lest they be judged for some inappropriate behavior. On the other hand, it is worth noting that the master who is returning is the same one who left. There are, of course, unscrupulous servants and tyrannical masters. There are also faithful servants and benevolent masters. There is no reason to see in this parable anyone other than a loving Lord. The Lord who has left us to go on ahead is the same one who has loved us to death on a cross and who has opened the future to us through his resurrection. He is the one who will accompany us to the judgement seat of God. In the language of the parable, we are confident that he will claim us as his own, speak well of us and commend us. Our own humanity is often frail and fallible, but we live with a sense of urgency and anticipation knowing that the one to whom we belong at the end of time is the same one who has been our gracious Lord from the beginning.

Morris West, one of America's great novelists, tell the story about eschatogical itching in an interesting way. In Clowns of God (William Morrow and Co., 1981), he writes that the pope has a revelation that Christ is returning for the final judgement. He shares this with the cardinals and they decide that it is best to say he is senile, so they exile him to the monastery at Monte Cassino. He gets the message out to some people in Europe and tells them to start forming cell groups of Christians all over the world. As time passes and these cell groups begin to form, Christmas Eve approaches. While the world brutalizes itself with wars and surfeits itself with excesses, one cell group meets in the hills of Bavaria to share the celebration of Christ's birth.

An interesting Middle Eastern type joins them for the celebration and when he is asked if he is a believer, he says:
"I am not a believer; I am he."
"Give us a sign," they say.
"If you were really he, you would say, ‘Ask and it shall be given."
"Ask," he said.
"Time," they said. "Enough time to change a world, to beautify it, to cleanse it, to prepare it for you."
"I accept," he said.
"How much time do we have," they asked.
"I won't say," he said. "Not much - but enough!"

The story sends a little chill down our spines because that's what we always want to know.

We want to know that we have enough time to say, "I'm sorry."

We want to know that we have enough time to heal and old wound, to change course in mid-stream, to say "no" instead of "yes," to say "yes" instead of "no."

We want to know that we have time to love him even more, who has loved us so much.

How much time do we have? Are you feeling the eschatological itch? In this season of Advent, as we think about all the things for which we so typically prepare, is there time to decorate the manger of our hearts with repentance, with new determination, with a more constant and focused love?

There is enough time, for Jesus accompanies you this day and every day, helping you to live joyfully and expectantly, to pray for his future for us, here already, now already.

Time moves irreparably forward, and we have an itch to see it go. We know that it takes us closer to the meaning of our lives and we long for what "eye has not seen and ear has not heard, but God has prepared for those who love him." We long to hear the master say "Watch" because we know he is giving us not much time - but enough.

Source: Gφttinger Predigten im Internet, ed. by U. Nembach, J. Neukirch

Watching The Warning Signs

by Geoff Thomas

Gospel: Mark 13: 28-37

"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.

If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'"
- Mark 13:28-37

This lengthy sermon of Christ is one of the most significant chapters in Mark's gospel. It begins innocently enough with a brief question which two sets of brothers privately ask the Lord. "At what time will the Jerusalem temple be destroyed?" They'd just been marveling at the sight of it across the valley, "What magnificent buildings!" when Jesus announced that it was going to be demolished; "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down" (v.2).

So they drew him aside and they asked him when this would be. Jesus gives them this extraordinary comprehensive answer – a whole panorama of the future. Let me say this to you, very soberly, that if you're not playing around with being religious, and if you are sincere about asking Almighty God questions, then the Lord will honor you with deeply thoughtful answers. He will always do two things, he will put a Bible in your hand, and he will direct you to a church which takes the Scriptures seriously. But if you're not serious, just curious about this and that, you'll get no answers. Don't ask God questions for the sake of questions, for example, Where did Cain get his wife? He won't answer questions like that because they are rarely sincere.

We are now looking at the closing words of Jesus' sermon. He is summing up what our attitude should be to the momentous events that lie before us. These words of our text are his conclusion and his application. The Puritans closed their sermons with a section they called 'uses' and they got that from the greatest Preacher of all. How does Christ end the sermon? He says three or four things:


You see the red lights flashing and you know there is danger ahead. You know the hazard lights are telling you to watch out. "You want to know when the temple is going to be destroyed? I have told you what are its precursors; there will be deceivers claiming to come from God, false Christs and false prophets; there will be wars and rumours of wars; there will be earthquakes and famines; you yourselves will be arrested and punished for preaching about me; there will be betrayals in families; you will see the abomination that causes desolation set up in the temple itself; you will see the Lord's people fleeing from Jerusalem to the mountains; there will be such days of distress for the people of Jerusalem, such as that city has never experienced in its entire history. Christ made the peril to come to Jerusalem spectacularly clear. "I have told you everything ahead of time" (v.23).

Then did our Saviour gesture to a nearby fig tree? We know that he said to them, "Learn this lesson from the fig tree" (v.28). Can we learn from the other book which God has given to us? It is the book of creation, and the books of general revelation and special revelation can never contradict one another. What does the tree teach us? "As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near" (v.28). I didn't know that a tree's twigs got tender as summer got near. Why didn't I know that? Some of you are gardeners and scientists and plant breeders. You never told me that the twigs of a fruit tree lost their winter hardness in the spring time. I knew of the buds appearing, that then they blossom, but never of the twigs becoming tender.

So we all see the leaves coming out in the spring, and we know the meaning of that sign that summer won't be long in coming. Just a few more weeks and the days will grow longer and it will be warmer. Who reads the signs? Meteorologists? No, not just them. Horticulturists and gardeners? No, not just them. Everyone. The five year old child takes for granted the spring leaves on the trees are saying that 'summer is a coming in, loud cry cuckoo'! In how many trees do the twigs get tender in the spring and the leaves come out? In all the deciduous trees – every single one! You don't have to be an expert to know that. It is so obvious. Everywhere you turn the message is the same.

Then it is also going to be obvious to every Christian when the fall of Jerusalem is imminent. It won't be that in some meeting one night in a remote house in eastern Galilee they'll be singing and swooning and praying for hours and finally a women gets up and says, "Thus saith the Lord, there is going to be the destruction of Jerusalem tomorrow." It's not going to be like that at all. It never is like that. The divine prophecy about the future doesn't come to some place far away from where you live, for example, from us who live in Wales to a place like Toronto or Pensacola so that we have to book expensive flights to hear the word of God about the future in some other continent. Not at all! The word is nigh you, in your heart and in your mouth. You received that knowledge from the Book and so did the whole church. Today we need people claiming to be prophets about as much as we need priests. Go to the Book! What does the Lord do? He prepares every Christian for the destruction of Jerusalem – everyone who believes the word of Jesus Christ will be ready for it. That is the only qualification. You don't have to be spookily 'religious' to get the message. Everyone with faith in Christ and with eyes to see what's going on all around will know that it won't be long. "Jerusalem Christians look around you! What do you see? This is what you see, deceivers claiming to come from God, false Christs, wars, earthquakes and famines, arrests and beatings for witnessing to Christ, betrayals in families. Then you will see the abomination that causes desolation set up in the temple itself. You will all know from the least of you to the greatest of you these signs that the end of the temple is nigh; its days are numbered. Flee to the mountains!" So our Lord is most anxious that his disciples be prepared for this. He spent precious hours in the last week of his life talking about it to them – at considerable length. It was that important to him that they be ready for these things to happen.

Then Jesus moves on from the events of the last days in the world of old covenant Jerusalem to the last days in the whole present world system, and he prepares us in our generation for that event. Again he gives signs about what is going to happen before that occurs. Once again they are not some esoteric clues so that only a few hyper spiritual or very intelligent Christians can discover what they are. Predicting the future or reading the times is not a competition for prizes. Every single Christian will be aware of these events. It is not for the people who have read the right religious almanacs like "The Late Great Planet Earth," or the "Left Behind" series of novels. It is not that those illuminati will understand while the rest of the Christian church will be baffled. It is not that those who belong to a certain organisation, or those who are listening to a certain guru will have the secret that the end of the world is in a few months' time. It is not even that God will withhold this information from sinning Christians. No. Every single Christian in the whole world will know that the time of the coming of Christ is at hand.


What the Saviour does is first to give us four general signs that show we are now living in the last days, the age that is heading for the end times.

i] The great expansion of the church shows that Satan is bound before Christ returns .

Before the Saviour returns Satan has to be limited in his influence. On the cross Christ has triumphed over the forces of darkness. He has made a show of principalities and powers and put them to shame. "See how helpless you are before me." By death he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil. The serpent is bound with a great chain. The devil is attached by a chain to Christ and if he goes too far troubling you or me, Christ yanks the chain. Maybe you don't understand this because you can see his activities plainly in the world today. He is still prowling around seeking whom he may devour. Of course he is, and we must put on all the armour of God to resist him. But he is a conquered adversary. You ask, "In what respect is he bound?" In this respect, that he can deceive the nations no longer. There was a time under the old covenant when Satan had complete dominion over the Gentile world. Every nation but Israel lay in "darkness and in the shadow of death" (Psalm 107:10). Up to the moment of Pentecost Satan held the Gentiles enthralled. We in Wales were in moral and spiritual bondage to druids, living in total spiritual darkness, worshipping the moon and stars. But now that has changed. Whatever the power and influence of Satan in Wales today the kingdom of Christ has made great inroads into our Principality. Europe was once in darkness but there are today gospel churches in every major city and university town across the continent. That was not the case during the Old Covenant.

See what Christ says here, that before he comes again, "the gospel must first be preached to all nations" (v.10). Look beyond Galilee and Judah and Samaria to the uttermost corners of the earth. Let me be specific; before the end of the present age the Rendille people in north-east Kenya must hear of the love of God in Jesus Christ. It is not enough for a Christian hot air balloon covered in big texts in a language the Rendille understand to fly lazily across the sky over their heads. It is not enough that boxes of tracts like confetti be poured down on every village. It is not enough that a four wheel drive vehicle goes to that remote region once a year and they hold open air services in all those localities and then disappear back to where they came from. The good news of Jesus Christ must be brought to them by pastor-preachers called and gifted by Christ to do this work. They must go there and stay there and dedicate their lives to talking holily and clearly and lovingly to the Rendille, urging them to believe the message of Jesus Christ. Those who believe must be baptized and gathered into churches. And what has to be done by Keith Underhill's men in the midst of an unreached group like the Rendille must be done in the thousands of other unreached and unchurched groups that exist all over the world. I am thinking of vast housing estates where the police are afraid to go alone, the inner cities and red-light districts in every major conurbation in the world. "Preach the gospel there," Christ says. You can see the vastness of our task. That must happen first, before Christ comes again, so that the work of mission is not some option which a few young people in a few churches might be considering. It is to be a passion and a burden within every single Christian heart. If I pray, "Thy will be done," then I am asking how can I further God's will. How can I promote the gospel outside my little creek? The devil cannot stop me spreading the kingdom to any place in the world. In May, God willing, I am going to Albania to preach for a week. You remember that that nation just a short time ago was the one official atheist country in Europe. Its doors were closed to the gospel, but then Jesus decided it was time to open them and the devil could do nothing about it.

ii] The second sign shows that the Spirit has been outpoured before Christ returns.

You protest at the absence of the Spirit's working in our churches in our day, of the fewness of conversions in European churches, of our lack of impact on society, and that is true. We long for God to revive his work and pour out his Spirit in abundance upon us again, but though they are days of spiritual weakness they are not days of absolutely nothing at all or we wouldn't be here today. "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people" (Acts 2:17). During the Old Testament the Spirit was confined within the borders of Israel, but now the Spirit is working in every corner of the world. Whereas in the Old Testament gifts of the Spirit were given to kings and prophets and judges and priests today in this age the Spirit comes on servants and handmaids, old men dream dreams and young men see visions. The Spirit regenerates every single believer, on every Jew and Gentile who believes in Christ. There is not a single Christian who lacks the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is given to enable us to understand what God has done in Jesus Christ and to assist us to face the hazards of Christian witness with wisdom, and courage, and boldness. Here it is in this sermon of Christ; "do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit" (v.11). "The New Testament evangelists, says the apostle Peter, preached the gospel with the Holy Spirit sent from heaven (1 Peter 1:12). Here again we see the link between the last days and the responsibility of Christian mission. God gave the church an apparently impossible assignment: 'Go to all the Gentiles! Go to every creature!' (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). The church might easily have said to God, 'These people are dead in sin. They hate you. They've slain your Son. They hate your gospel. There's no point in sending us!' No. In these last days, we evangelise in the Spirit. The gospel cannot be disjoined from this divine power. Where it is disjoined – where the gospel is unacknowledged from on high – there is an unendurable anomaly, and we must plead with God for the restoration of normal service" (Donald Macleod, "A Faith to Live By", Christian Focus, 1998, p.257).

iii] The third sign shows that today Christ lives and reigns before he returns.

There is a beautiful hymn sung to the tune 'Londonderry Air' which climaxes with the return of Christ. Its final line says, "At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world is king!" Sometimes the words 'at last' are even italicised by way of emphasis. Biblically it is an unacceptable thought. King Jesus today reigns with all authority in heaven and on heart. He will decide with his own sovereign will when he shall return. Men hated Christ and murdered him. They nailed him to a cross and didn't take his body down until he was dead. They buried him and put a guard on his tomb so that no one could steal his body and claim he had risen again, but on the third day, without any assistance from any creature, he rose. He was raised from the dead; his graveclothes were there but he was risen. He appeared to the disciples on many occasions for forty days, on the beach, on a mountain, in the garden, walking on a road, in the upper room, eating and drinking with them, talking of the kingdom of God until finally he ascended to heaven. We know where Christ is today and what he is doing. He is in the midst of the throne; he is head over all things to the church; he sits in heaven and does whatsoever he pleases. He builds his church and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, and from heaven he will come again to judge the living and the dead. The greatest reality in the universe is the Lamb in the midst of the throne.

I was telling a pastor this week that I was beginning a wee series on the book of Revelation. He told me of some ministers and lecturers sitting in a railway carriage discussing that book and talking of 'realized eschatology' and various millennium views and symbolical theology and so on. The old ticket collector came into their carriage and paused and listened to them with interest as they talked. He was a Christian. "We are speaking about the book of Revelation," one of them said to him, "do you know anything about it?" The ticket collector looked at them and he said, "The Lamb wins." Amen. He does. When he returns to the world it is not as he came on the first occasion, into poverty and obscurity, gaped at by a few shepherds. Every eye shall see him as he comes "with great power and glory" (v.26).

God's sovereignty is on the shoulders of Jesus. Of course God always reigned; he was king even under the Old Covenant, but now God the Son, risen and exalted, reigns in our human nature, "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebs. 4:15). He reigns to give eternal life to all those whom God has given to him. The unlimited resources of the Messiah are pledged to the furtherance of the gospel. The gospel is not a poor, puny, undernourished and under-resourced entity starved of any means. In this age, today, even as I speak, my Saviour has all authority and he is head over all things for the church. He can move heaven and earth for the sake of the gospel, and we take that gospel into every land where Jesus is already reigning; we go to every land in the empire of Christ. There is no place where he is not Lord. The gospel says, "Our Saviour lives. He is prepared to become your Saviour. Bow to him and acknowledge your sins and receive him as your Saviour and confess him to the world."

Such a message will witness extraordinary signs. Three thousand converts in a single sermon. 25 year-old Spurgeon preaching to ten thousand people every Sunday for years in London with thousands of them becoming Christians. We have seen greater things than Jesus himself saw. The gospel of the living Christ today has total global impact. This very sermon you are now hearing will soon be on the web and four thousand people a week will be reading this and other messages. Let us rejoice that all things are ours. Let us claim the miracles of grace of the last days, the wonders of salvation erupting into the lives of countless individuals and the salvation of whole communities

iv] The fourth sign is that there is tribulation before Christ returns.

What is the picture you gain from this sermon of Christ? Isn't it of a groaning creation, with earthquakes, famines and warfare, as nation fights against nation, families spilt apart children betraying parents? How do we go forth bearing witness to Jesus Christ? We do so facing the hostility of the world for being his disciples. Sometimes its hostility is shown in a posture of utter boredom, of postmodern apathy, so that they can acknowledge our right to believe what we want to believe, but "Please don't try to convert me – don't even think of it." Other times its hostility is assassination and murder, the bomb and the bullet, and there is more of that persecution in the world today than at any time in its history.

There was a two page news item in the Times yesterday (5th February 2005) on Muslim persecution in England today of former Muslims who have become Christians. This is how it began, "The first brick was thrown through the sitting room window at one in the morning, waking Nissar Hussein, his wife and five children with a terrifying start. The second brick went through his car window. It was a shock, but hardly a surprise. The week before, another brick had been thrown through the window as the family were preparing for bed in their Bradford home. The victim of a three-year campaign of religious hatred, Mr. Hussein's car has also been rammed and torched, and the steps to his home have been strewn with rubbish. He and his family have been regularly jostled, abused, attacked, shouted at to move out of the area, and given death threats in the street. His wife has been held hostage inside their home for two hours by a mob. His car, walls and windows have been daubed in graffiti: "Christian bastard". The problem isn't so much what Mr. Hussein, whose parents came from Pakistan, believes, but what he doesn't believe. Born into Islam, he converted eight years ago to Christianity, and his wife, also from Pakistan, followed suit." What we read here is exactly what Christ said would happen before he returned.

So here is our dilemma. We are under an obligation to keep going into all the world making disciples of all nations until Christ comes again, but we do so in the face of utter indifference and violent opposition. There will be no relief from that until the end of the world. Our Saviour in fact reinforces this with these words, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:10-12). Charles Wesley was grasped by that vision of a dying world needing the gospel writing these words,

"Happy if with my latest breath I might but gasp his name,
Preach him to all and cry in death, Behold, behold the Lamb."

So here are four general events that are signs that Christ is going to return as he said; Satan is bound; the Spirit is poured out; Christ lives and reigns; there is the persecution of his people.


So there are those four general characteristics of the time preceding the return of Christ, but then there are also some special events which the New Testament declares will occur immediately before his coming. Let's look at them negatively and positively.

i] First, negatively, there will be a time of great tribulation.

We all acknowledge that persecution and rejection face every godly disciple of Christ every day of his life. Is that all the Bible is talking about when it refers to a 'great tribulation'? Doesn't there seem to be something more than that predicted, that there will be a time of great tribulation? Remember the question asked by John on the Isle of Patmos concerning a mass of people in heaven? "Who are these?" And he is told that these people came out of the great tribulation. Every Christian passes through trials, but there are some Christians who pass through the fires. Think of it like this, that it is obvious that the Lord Jesus Christ and his disciples met hostility during the thirty years of his life, but nothing that happened in Jerusalem during those decades can be compared to the tribulation the people of the land knew in the year 70 – that was a great tribulation. Or think of this comparison, that every day Christ was tempted by Satan, but then there was the time of his "Temptations in the Wilderness," a special intensification of demonic attack, a full frontal attack on Christ which we call 'the temptations.' So there are our tribulations and there will be the tribulation.

Of course we are all living in a fallen world and we endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, but I must admit that my own life has been particularly benign. I would be embarrassed to claim that I had "passed through the great tribulation," but the Reformers in the time of Queen Mary did know great tribulation, and the people of Sudan today, and Christians in the Middle East know it, and converted Muslims know it everywhere in the world, but there will be an international outbreak of unprecedented persecution preceding the return of Christ. That will be orchestrated by the devil as he sees his days numbered. It will be a time of rebellion, that is, of great falling away (2 Thess. 2:3) before Christ returns. There will also be the revelation of the Man of Sin, the Principle of Lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:1-12), who proclaims himself to be God. So these negative predictions are made about events before the return of Christ.

ii] Secondly, positively, there will be a time of great blessing.

There is a prophecy that one day the Jews will be brought back to Christ. This appears to be the undeniable teaching of Romans chapter 11 and verse 25, "Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved." That cannot mean that every single Jew living at some point in time is going to become a Christian. It means that just as today Israel is collectively separate from Christ (though there are many Jewish Christians like our brother Baruch Maoz), one day the proportions will be reversed. Israel collectively will be Christian while a minority will remain unbelieving.

What effect on the world will this have – this conversion of Israel from being against the Lord Jesus to being zealously for him? It will be "life from the dead" (Roms. 11:15). There will be a time of latter day glory in the world, before Christ returns, in which the c hurch will be mightily revived and Christian Jew and Gentile alike will take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world with renewed energy. What a time of gospel expansion that will be. What joy will fill the church. Then she will be the light of the whole world, shining more brightly than ever before. This is the Puritan Hope because it is the biblical hope. Spurgeon was preaching on this event one Sunday and he cried, "The day shall yet come when the Jews who were the first apostles to the Gentiles, the first missionaries to us who were afar off, shall be gathered in again. Until that shall be, the fulness of the church's glory can never come. Matchless benefits to the world are bound up with the restoration of Israel; their gathering in shall be as life from the dead" (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 17, p.703). A great awakening lies before the coming of Christ such as this world has never seen. That will put steel in the backbone of the church to endure the appearance of the Man of Sin and for the time of great tribulation. She will have been strengthened for it by the years of blessing that will have changed the whole ethos of the world.


This is an interesting question that Christians for many years have asked. If I have given you the correct interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2 concerning the revelation of the Man of Sin, and a correct interpretation of Romans 11 and the conversion of the Jews then aren't we being told that Christ won't return until these things have occurred? How can this be reconciled with the teaching in the Bible that the Lord may come at any time and I am to watch for his coming? What a nice question. Have you thought about this? What conclusions have you come to? Maybe the following;

i] One: I've got my interpretations of 2 Thessalonians 2 and Romans 11 wrong, but I don't think so, though it certainly means that I must be very gentle in telling you what I've been saying today. You know how infrequently I preach on the future of the Jews and on prophecy. I read this week again our church's 1689 Confession of Faith and it is wisely silent about all of that. Maybe

ii] Two: I've got a wrong interpretation of those passages that seem to suggest that the next great event on the calendar of redemption is not revival, nor the conversion of the Jews, nor the appearance of the Man of Lawlessness; it is the return of Jesus Christ from heaven. No, I have the correct interpretation of that. It is very clear from this very passage before us that we are called to daily watchfulness in the light of the return of Christ. "Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'" (vv.33-37).

Let me answer the question like this:

i] This was an issue for the very first Christians.

They looked ahead to the return of Christ. That was the ground of their endeavour and their supreme comfort. Jesus said to them that he would surely come quickly, and yet he had also told them that first the gospel had to be preached in all the nations of the world. That task would certainly not be accomplished for centuries. The whole world was to be discipled; the kingdom of God was to grow like a mustard seed into a great tree. That wouldn't be accomplished quickly, but they were still told to be watchful.

I live each day expecting my Saviour to return, but I don't live convinced that it's going to be this day. I don't believe that God wants us to be convinced that it's going to be this very day. There has not been a day in my life on which I was convinced that this was the day the Lord was going to return, and I believe my experience is the same as all God's people everywhere. If every generation of Christians were supposed to be sure that Christ was going to come back during their lifetimes then for 20 centuries Christians have been believing a deceit. Maybe there is going to be another long period of time before Christ returns, during which time the gospel is going to be preached with great success all over the world, and Europe won back for the Saviour. I don't know.

ii] Christians from the time of Peter have been aware that they were growing old and would die before Christ came back.

This knowledge did not prevent them being watchful. Remember the Lord Jesus told Peter that he would live until old age, and he would be carried around and die a martyr's death (Jn. 21:18). That didn't stop Peter longing for the coming of Christ. His desire was, "looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God" (2 Pet. 3:12). Paul was ready to die a martyr's death, but his great longing was Christ's appearing. Someone asked John Elias if he expected Christ to come that year – it was 1841 – and Elias said to them, "I don't expect to see Christ with my bodily eyes till the last day." And yet John Elias at the same time was waiting for the coming of Christ.

iii] What is significant is not whether Christ will come in our lifetime or not, nor whether we die first, nor whether he comes 'sooner' or 'later' but whether we will be with the sheep at his right hand when he appears.

iv] It is the power of faith to bring things very distant close at hand.

I have my Saviour's words.

I have seen Christ coming. I have heard the sound of the trumpet and the heavens opening and the sun no longer shining, and the stars falling from the sky.

I have seen the graves open and the dead coming forth. I have seen the sea give up its dead. I have seen the great assembly all gathering before Christ.

I have heard him say to many, "Come you blessed ones." I have heard him say to others, "Depart from me I never knew you."

I have seen the glories of heaven and the horrors of hell.

But faith I have seen all of this already. They are a present reality to me. By faith it is just a 'little while' until he that shall come will come.

Moses saw Christ's day and was glad. I too have seen his day and I am glad. Even if it is a thousand years away it does not diminish the influence of that event on my life. A few short years and I will be dead but my hope is a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

I have seen the stone rolled away and I have seen the angels tell the women that he is not here, he is risen. I have heard him say that because he lives I shall live also. He will raise me from the dust, and it matters not to me when that is going to be.

There are two events that are equally near and equally real to me and I grasp them both. Christ dying for me, near and present, and Christ coming for me, near and present. It is nothing to me that the Lamb of God died almost 2000 years ago. What is that to me? His blood never loses its power. Golgotha doesn't grow stale. What though there be long ages before Christ returns? That is nothing to me. His promise doesn't lose its truth. He says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (v.31). Whatever I'm doing, wherever I am, Christ came and died for me, Christ now reigns and lives for me, and Christ is returning for me. Behind me, Christ dying; before me, Christ coming. I live by faith in the one who loved me and gave himself for me, and in the one who said, "And I will come again and take you unto myself that where I am there you will be also."

Thomas Hall died in 1665 and he said these great words on his deathbed,

"I am now going where I shall have rest from sin and Satan, from all fear, weariness, and watching; and from all the evils and errors of a wicked world; even so come, Lord Jesus, for I long for thy coming."

We are here to do all that God has given us to do with all our might, not as men pleasers but those whose calling is to honour God.

We are here to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God.

We are here to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbours as ourselves. We are here to do our duty, to fear God and bring the gospel to everyone.

We are not here to get preoccupied overmuch with the world to come. Once there was a meeting of ministers in America and George Whitefield spoke to them. He told them that it was his great consolation that in a short time all his work on earth would be over and he would be with Christ, and all the ministers nodded their heads gravely and agreed, except one. William Tennent said nothing, and Whitefield spotted that he was looking down and was mute. So Whitefield tapped him on the knee and said to him, "Now brother Tennent don't you rejoice that your time is at hand, and don't you rejoice that you'll be called home and freed from all your labours and trials?" Tennent said, "I have no wish about it." "Come now . . ." said Whitefield, pressing him again to speak about his hope of heaven. "No, sir, it is no pleasure to me at all, and if you knew your duty it would be none to you. I have nothing to do with death; my business is to live as long as I can – as well as I can – and to serve my Lord and Master as faithfully as I can, until he shall think proper to call me home." That is our preoccupation, to discover how we may glorify God in Aberystwyth and then to do it day by day until we have no strength to do it any more.

There were two Covenanter Christians in Scotland during the time of persecution under Charles II. One of them accepted the indulgence offered him by the crown while the other, Donald Cargill refused it and accepted a horrible death. The minister said to Donald Cargill, "Why do we need to differ like his. We will get to heaven and the men persecuting us will get no more." "Yes," said Cargill, "we will get more. We will get God glorified on earth, which is more than getting heaven."

We will honor Christ by doing our present duties every day. That is a priceless privilege, and those who serve him will not be found wanting at his coming. "Blessed is that servant whom His Lord when he comes shall find him so doing."

Copyright © 2016 Alfred Place Baptist Church


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