Preached at the California Baptist Church
Luke 21:25-32 (English-Darby)
25 And there shall be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity [at] the roar of the sea and rolling waves, 26 men ready to die through fear and expectation of what is coming on the habitable earth, for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. 27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws nigh. 29 And he spoke a parable to them: Behold the fig-tree and all the trees; 30 when they already sprout, ye know of your own selves, [on] looking [at them], that already the summer is near. 31 So also *ye*, when ye see these things take place, know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall in no wise pass away until all come to pass.
Two of the most dramatic events in all of recorded history occurred when our Lord Jesus Christ entered the City of Jerusalem on what we Christians call Palm Sunday and when He gave Himself a sacrifice for our sins on Calvary's cross that following Friday, the Friday that was good for the cleansing of our offenses against our Creator. He entered Jerusalem on the tenth of Nisan, the day set aside for the choosing of the sheep to be slaughtered for the Passover rites and like those unblemished animals His blood was shed at Passover time.
There were never two more crucial days for man than these days of passion and compassion. What Jesus chose to say and to do between the tenth of Nisan and that dark hour on Golgotha have, to this very second, earth-shaking consequences.
In today's text Jesus and his disciples have just left the Temple and they're on the Mount of Olives. Very soon they will re-enter the city to observe the Passover rites, their Last Supper. From Olivet the ancient city was particularly impressive to view, especially to the disciples who were, after all, country boys.
I can understand their awe and the words they speak about the great Temple before them. I've walked in downtown Pittsburgh often enough gaping up at the sky-scrapers while my city girl, keeps after me lest I humiliate us all with my Greene County ways!
To their awe-filled comments Jesus tells them that the time is near when the city shall be left in utter ruins. The times were troubled and uncertain for Israel. While the world knew relative calm under the Caesars, the Jewish people caused many problems with their non-conformity and fierce national pride. They knew this so they put into words the question of the ages, "What of the times?"
Jesus, Whom we must never forget, is God the Son, spoke God's sovereign will. So beyond the shackles of human time and space was He that in speaking spoke in one statement of two things: the present generation and how they'd see Jerusalem fall. Secondly, as though that historic fall were a preview of the great cataclysm world-wide, how the last day of history would be preceded by similar signs.
Jesus says what sinful man fears to even think, time will end! Existence for these millions of years has an Author, the Father God. None of history can be really meaningless, directionless even though meaningless and directionless it may seem at times. It is a book with many, many chapters -- each of us, every life we live, is but one of these chapters.
We know that every chapter has an ending, no matter how long or how brief. And Christ tells us all that the book is coming to an end much as the Jerusalem chapter was soon to end in 70 A.D. Read that chapter and you'll know how the "book of history" ends!
And what of that end? How you answer that question says many things about your present walk with God! For a moment imagine For a moment imagine a strange disheveled looking man with a long beard and wearing long robes silently standing on some street corner or other and holding a large placard with the ominous words writ in huge letters: "PREPARE FOR THE END OF THE WORLD!"
There was a time, and not so long ago, when many would have been frightened by such a scene -- today the scare has gone out of it all for few are telling that the Book does have an end! As the crowds pass they gaze at the man, many laugh, some shake their heads in disgust, while most simply ignore this eccentric. There is today more stare than scare in the whole thing! Yet we are Christ's flock and we are entrusted with this news. It may be true that within Christendom only the very few want to hear of it, to consider it, to take it at all seriously. But even so, are we then to be excused from the awesome responsibility of warning men that there is an end?
Some men are asking what the disciples asked -- "What is the meaning of it all?" -- for we do live in extraordinarily troubled times and there is no reason to suppose things will get better for this old planet. The world hurtles on to ghastly war, each hour brings some nightmarish omen -- each day virtually shouts the trouble this planet is in! Can it go on forever this way? Is there any resolution to it?
Hear what Jesus still says, "When you see the new shoots on the tree you know the time is at hand!" Everywhere in that day the shoots grew and with each passing year His warnings came to pass until the Emperor Titus entered Jerusalem and destroyed that proud and ancient metropolis. The sprouts, my friends, are shooting forth again with each passing year. Soon they shall be in full-bloom -- the end comes as one by one His words come to pass on an ever-widening global scale.
Normally I am upset when somebody tells me how a book I'm reading ends or when at the movies somebody behind me whispers loudly all that will develop in the picture they've already obviously seen. After all, the joy of a novel and the enjoyment of any drama is in discovering for yourself where it all leads, what the climax shall be, and how it will end! Yet in this case I'm so grateful to Jesus for telling me nearly 2,000 years ago exactly how the book develops and what its ending will be.
Because I care not only about my soul, because I care about all whom I love, it is a wonderful thing to be forewarned so that we might all be ready for the worst and finally for blessedness.
This is Christ's holy mercy to His sheep, we know what's happening, why it's happening, and that Christ will come to deliver us from the horror already approaching this sin-loving generation of crime, promiscuity, unfaithfulness, and violence.
Because He tells me it will soon end -- the signs of Jerusalem are once again upon us -- He calls me to believe with all my heart in the things that matter eternally. He's begun to make us eternal by winning us eternal life upon His cross and by His glorious resurrection and ascension. Believe then as surely as you believe you are alive and breathing at this moment. Believe that there is an end to history, all of it turns out to make the greatest sense, even that which now seems senseless and even cruel!
Believe that there is a very real hell to avoid and a very real heaven to desire and know that we are traveling toward one or the other destination! Believe that you can be saved from ultimate destruction, that His blood covers your sins and God will accept you at the end if you will seek Him out with the days or years remaining to you by His mercy! Believe in being prepared -- prepared that you might be found ready for you are no stranger to Christ, you read His Word, you pray to and through Him, you try to do His work, you love His church!
Believe He is coming, for He is coming as surely as sunset is coming tonight and sunrise is coming tomorrow! People who await a loved one rejoice at the thought of the hour of reunion, let this be no exception!
You see dear friends, -- how it all ends is extremely important. What we believe about life influences the way we live. If I truly believe in a loving God I shall soon become a loving person, that is a belief about life that can change life. What we believe about life and the end of life is in reality the same thing! Jesus illustrates this with the story of the rich man and his barns. He'd filled his barns so full of produce and goods that he had to tear them down and build larger ones to hold all his wealth.
This farmer must have believed life was here merely to earn and accumulate for he said, "I've all I need, let me sit back now and eat, drink, and be merry!" He must also have believed that somehow it wouldn't end for him -- "I have plenty!" What a shallow, bankrupt view of life that! And Heaven can only answer as it answered him, "Thou fool, this very night your soul shall be required of you." Tonight is the end of your particular chapter in history! That chapter which you refer to so proudly as "Me and mine" is ended suddenly! And dear ones, to ignore the end whether it be your own or the world's is to be the worst sort of fool!
Today is a day of frantic denial of the end. It certainly is not fashionable or popular to preach in most churches that there is to be an end, The End. People are much too busy running away from the inevitable, the end of it all. Cosmetics make billions of dollars for their manufacturers, plastic surgeons are doing a booming business as all try to find youth and deny death or the possibility of a cataclysmic end of this world.
Not since Rome's fall has civilization fallen into such a craze for entertainment, constant amusement. And not since that civilization fell has it known such an alarming perversity in the amusement needs of a culture.
"Let us escape reality for reality has an ending to it and we cannot cope with the end. Pleasure, pleasure, pleasure! If it feels good, by all means do it! Keep glued to the TV, let's pretend the world isn't ending -- maybe it will all go away like it does on the sitcoms!"
Crime, violence, a most shameful sort of promiscuity are now becoming ways of life. The accepted facts of life are more and more murder, rape, torture, robbery everywhere from the big city to out in the sticks. Greed, lust, perversity -- all a denial that there is an end and justice is at that end. The big obscenity of our time is death -- unlike our ancestors we deny it, we hide it, we cosmetize it, and we are very, very afraid of the end -- maybe because the present life is such a frightening prospect for so many of us? God knows why!
Yet everything is said in answer to the question, "And what of death?" Each of us shall surely die from one cause or another, we each hope it will be in peace surrounded by our loved ones but in this present insane world who knows? Every man's death is rather like Jerusalem's fall, especially if every man is proud. Every death becomes a preview, a kind of prophecy that one day it will all end for the entire world. First the end of our personal worlds then the end of the world! Today men are surfacey about life, shallow beyond belief! They desire to deny the end so there can be no depth to them, no eternal perspective to their sad lives.
Some view life merely as a biological thing: glands, organs, and sensations -- that's all and "When you die, you die like a dog!" I suppose they are under the illusion that dogs don't go to Heaven: well, I am convinced that they are wrong, dead wrong about themselves and about our canine friends.
Their lives then reflect an appalling indifference making the world more and more brutal as the world's population grows more and more and ever more. As millions starve, as millions are aborted the world seems to yawn indifferently: "So what?" It's survival of the fittest, or haven't you heard?
To some, to His people, life is sacred for the Holy awaits at the end of these lives and at the end of time and space. Love matters infinitely, mercy is a gift we ought to treasure for it is from Heaven. Justice is urgent now for eternity is ahead and demands such things of us all.
Because the end has meaning it matters how we live. Communism, for example, says the end is the end, period. There is no God, no accountability, no immortality: all that matters is a here and now grasping of power and intimidation. Communism, unbelief, atheism, whatever the ailment of the soul, how do they exist? They exist as cancer exists, as parasites exist! It doesn't matter how many lies you tell, how ruthless your methods may be -- all that matters is that your thinking takes over the world for that is all there really is, this world and then the graveyard. And this is to be said of any form of materialism including a ruthless sort of capitalism that doesn't give a damn about anything but making money and gaining the market: ask Ebenezer Scrooge what a mistake that one is?
How very sad for this tired old world thinking as it must that no matter how deplorable these forms of unbelief may be in time the leopard can change his spots or a malignant cancer be transformed (or maybe just made to look like) the loveliest of roses. Unbelief in its many and varied forms hates Christianity for our Faith says that Somebody awaits the nations at the end of the road, the end does matter because the present matters to God!
This weekend I went home. I knew that at the other end of route 88 was home. Because I was going all the way to the end of my destination I was happy. I was relaxed, casual -- why I even sang, can you imagine such a thing? My journey, you understand, had a happy destination where I was loved and welcomed! Where happiness awaited me, that was where I was headed. And so it must be with the ends we are all approaching as well as the great End that must surely come "with glory" when Christ cometh "to judge the quick and the dead" for "His kingdom shall have no end". Let us then dare to be happy, singing, blessing our parents for our baptism and our Christ for the grace of salvation for He has set upon us the seal of the cross made upon our foreheads. He has already told us of our ends and of the End but because He told us quite clearly we shall rejoice for we will arrive Home to be loved, to be welcomed.
On that journey I might have taken a wrong turn off Route 88 at one of the crossroads but I didn't want to go to Waynesburg or Masontown. Even so, the crossroads of this life matter very much! Crises, decisions, challenges are such crossroads -- let me stay in the main route to Jesus. He and He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life you know!
Because of the end what I do now matters -- crossroads matter -- decisions matter infinitely! I am here to make a difference and so are you. We are here to be fishers of men, to take all who "will" to Christ at the end of the road. Therefore, I encourage, I pray, I love, and I do not forsake worship. All of this helps keep the road clear. All of this keeps my sight sharp and aids me to travel to the end (or to use the words of Holy Scripture, "to endure to the end"). If I do not live as though He awaits me, if these things matter little or not at all I will be among those crowds at the end calling Him "Lord! Lord!" and I shall hear Him say to me: "I never knew you. Depart!" If I am to meet a Friend at the end of time let us not be strangers on the road.
At a masquerade party all are masked, they hide their identities from each other. Then midnight comes and all unmask, there is no more pretense, no more anonymity, no more hiding -- all will be open and in full view!
Because we understand where it's all heading we are not afraid of then or of now, Jesus Christ is in both of them for us. He saved us already from Hell but that's not all. He saved us from Hell in order that we may be Heavenly in the here and now. He saved us from eternal death but that isn't even the "half of it": He saved us from eternal death to be alive, happy, rejoicing right now! "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain" saith the Apostle Saint Paul. And of our poor worldly friends, can they be happy in the midst of this all without wearing their masks? Life is pretty hard to face on your own and so through the years we grow these masks -- but at the end we are all frightened children and we must never make that mistake again. We are baptized in the Name of the Most Blessed Trinity and if that isn't making a difference then it is time to fall upon our knees and see that from hereon in it does make the difference. We are "not of this world" but we are still "in it" and that is because God has work for us to be about for the sake of our precious friends and families and, yes, even for complete strangers: Good Samaritans are wanted!
Please recall that we are heading for a wedding and wow, what a wedding it will be! If you don't like happiness, if you hate dancing and singing you'd best ask God to help you to overcome your gloomy-puss now for there will be "no more sorrow there". When I was a boy I can recall how happy I would be and how sad my little buddies were when I told them I was going to Kennywood park. Well then, consider it closely, it is not Kennywood that we are heading for but Heaven -- all the world is sad because they are not with our traveling group. They don't understand therefore they ridicule us, they scorn us as naive in the extreme. And, I am sorry to say, most of us don't want to be perceived as being "old-fashioned" or "stick in the muds" (should I have said sticks in the mud, that one was never too clear to me). But I have lived just long enough to realize that they envy us, perhaps unconsciously, but they want the peace that passeth all understanding and they are presently looking in all the wrong places for it.
If we invite them along (and surely we must) most won't go for they don't like the looks of the crosses we carry on our way. Even so, the dear Lord will see to it that our traveling party, our company of pilgrims will grow -- He shall return after all of the elect are accounted for, after that 100th sheep is rescued. We have His word on it and that word is better than any signature anywhere in this unhappy world of ours.
Because there is meant to be a wonderful end for us suddenly "a million tons will be lifted from us" for while we are called upon to bear our crosses we will also realize that He took the sins of the whole world upon Himself at Calvary. Up until Jesus we were like people hanging onto a ledge for dear life -- "Don't end! Don't end!" we seemed to be shouting at life. But then we heard Him say, "Let go! What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Let go and follow Me!" When we did it was only an inch or so to the ground, not the yawning chasm we had imagined for Jesus paid it all and swallowed up that chasm at His glorious resurrection. He's leveled the ground with His coming to Bethlehem, His dying at Calvary, His rising again as Christus Victor.
We begin to understand that we don't have to be all caught up with the Jones' family, we are not bound by this planet's ruthless competition, we have wealth awaiting us that makes this all look like a junk-yard. Because of the end we aren't hamsters on some gosh-awful treadmill, we have all the time in the world on our side and a blessed eternity has been ours from the day our dear parents brought us in to be baptized!
Because of the end our bank account doesn't rule us, it needn't be larger and larger (although that is always nice). No, what is nicer is this, we can dare to live now.
Because of the end we are not really tied to the present cares that weigh us down, we're going to leave all of this hatred and violence and crime behind us soon enough. "Soon and very soon we are going to see the King!" Amen.
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