Archive for August, 2008|Monthly archive page

Believers in Orissa, India, and Christ’s Return

John Piper just linked to this article over on the desiring god blog. How do you think these believers in Orissa, India, regard Christ’s return? Do you think they are eagerly awaiting His return? I think if we were to ask 100 of them that question – 100 of them would respond in the positive. Now why do you think that is? It’s because they are suffering. Did they choose the suffering? In a sense they did – they determined that living as disciples of Christ in this world was what they would do and out of His providence suffering was brought upon them because of that determination. I wonder how much suffering you and I face on a daily basis because we have determined to live as disciples of Christ – because we took up our crosses and followed him. I’d measure to say that you probably suffered about as much as I did today. That is how it is in our comfortable homes and in our comfortable life styles. We don’t suffer. In fact, everything in us has been trained to avoid suffering at all costs. That is why there is such a thing as air-conditioning.

I’ve heard a pastor put it like this (and no, it wasn’t John Piper) – What if you determined that this week you were going to go to each of your neighbor’s houses. What if you determined to go and share the gospel with each of them to the point where they knew you truly believed they would go to hell if they did not repent of their sins and follow Christ? Do you think you’d suffer? What if you determined to call every church in your community that was apostate – not preaching the gospel at all or watering down the gospel message for the sake of “seeker sensitivity”. What if you called them and told them they were, according to God’s word, abandoning the gospel that was handed down once for all from Christ and His apostles? Do you think you’d suffer? What if you called that family member who you know is lost and on their way to an eternity under God’s wrath? What if you called them and told them that the road they were on was the road to destruction? Do you think you’d suffer? We make a thousand decisions a day (or refuse to make those decisions) to avoid suffering. What if, instead of choosing the path of least resistance, you started choosing the path that lead to suffering? How do you think you would start regarding Christ’s return? Would you be found eagerly waiting for His return?

The Beginning of Birth Pains

What better source could there be than the words of Jesus himself to start a study about His return. What did Jesus have to say about His return? The Olivet Discourse is probably one of the best and yet most debated places to start. I’ll concentrate on Matthew’s record in this post. There are mainly three points in Jesus words in Matthew 24:4-41. Let’s handle them one post at a time. First, Christ talks in v. 4-8 about the events and signs that will lead up to His return. Here in this text, Jesus points directly to the prophet Daniel. We take this to be a reference to the 70th week that Daniel talks about in Daniel 9. When you bring Daniel 9 into the mix the interpretation becomes exceedingly difficult. It is not easy to reconcile Daniel 9, which Jesus explicitly references, and Christ’s words about his return. What is, I believe, very clear is that the events and signs that Jesus references very closely parallel the 7 seals of Revelation 6. What, in v. 4-8, does Jesus say is the first sign of His return? He says there will be false christs appearing. The first seal in Revelation 6 is the anti-christ. Then Jesus says the second sign/event will be wars and rumors of wars. The second seal in Revelation 6 is warfare. Then Jesus says that there will be famines and earthquakes. The third seal of Revelation 6 is famine. The fourth and fifth seals are death and martyrdom. Then the sixth seal of Revelation is an earthquake. Then Jesus says that this is just the beginning. You look at the seventh seal of Revelation and it goes on for chapters – judgment being poured out on the inhabitants of the earth. Although Revelation is not clear about this, Daniel 9 is clear that this period of tribulations is to last seven years. In Daniel 9, one week is equal to 7 years. That is the interpretation of the 70 weeks in Daniel 9 – 70 periods of 7 years each. Many believe that Jesus is referring to the 70th week of Daniel 9 and this has come to be known as the “Tribulation.” My understanding is that Revelation doesn’t say that it lasts for 7 years. The period of 7 years comes from Daniel 9.

There are a couple of things that I find very hopeful about Matthew 24:4-8 is that Jesus says that these are the beginning of the birth pains. Now I am no woman, but I am married to a woman and the woman I am married to has given birth 4 times. So I know by now that the reality of birth pains means something. It means the pregnancy is almost over. It means the joy and happiness that comes with the birth of a child is about to arrive. The birth pains, from what I’ve seen, would be the most difficult time of the pregnancy, but it is also the shortest period of the pregnancy. I know I’m reading a lot into this, but I at least can understand from Christ’s words here and his reference to birth pains that the time of his return is closer when the tribulation gets worse. We can at least say that much. When things get the worst, we are then closest to His return. So put your charts away and forget your predictions. What was Jesus’ intent here? His intent was to say to His disciples (and by that, I mean the twelve and us), “Endure!” It’s a sober warning in v. 13. The times will be so difficult that many will grow cold. I’m sorry, but end-times charts give me no hope to endure. I see no hope in baseless predictions – they miss the whole point of Christ’s words about his return. I see no hope in trying to decode the “so-called” ciphers in scripture. We have a word from our Savior here that when things get the worst, don’t lose hope and give up – Endure! If you want to be saved – endure! When things get the worst is when your hope should be the strongest and instead of giving up, you should start looking up. Tribulations should NOT cause us to grow cold, but should make us red hot in our love. God’s will is that tribulations would cause the gospel message to spread through out all the earth. I love that. I want to see that. These times are hard to live in and we should not expect anything different. The question is – do these times in which we live have more of an impact upon us than we do upon them or are we impacting the times with the spread of the gospel message?

This really takes me back to 9/11. Remember what happened? Remember the influx of crowds we saw on Sunday mornings? The church in America failed those crowds. The gospel message was soft if present at all. I think about the messages that were heard in the community that I live in. How I wish there had been a single preacher who would’ve stood up before those crowds and preached the gospel? But it was fluff and it was shallow and the crowds quickly dissipated because of it. I look at men like John Piper, who faithfully preached and whose church was prepared for such times because of his years of faithful preaching. My prayer is that God will bring up such men now in my generation, so that when something similar to 9/11 happens – the churches of America are ready and will not fail the crowds again. My prayer is that God is doing a work in the lives of people who sit under my teaching and preparing them for the tribulations that will come in their lives so that their testimony will be that they were ready to glorify Christ in the midst of their suffering for the sake of the gospel.

Eschatology and the Olivet Discourse

I worry about guys who are obsessed with the return of Christ and what we call eschatology, the study of last things. There have been those throughout history who can be examples of this obsession with the last things being carried to the extreme. Men like Jim Jones and David Koresh are of the extreme variety. I think similarly there are those who, in pride, want to be able to be called an “expert” about the signs of the times and make predictions that will be proven true. Hebrews 9:28 says, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” So we are to eagerly await his second appearing, I just think that there are those who are so obsessed with the last things that they lose sight of the reason they should be eagerly waiting for him. Some love to debate the subject. Others are obsessed with the headlines and trying to prove them in line with the secret codes of scripture.

My reason for doing this study is not because I’m obsessed with the end of the age or that I’m always on the lookout for the signs of Christ’s return. I’m not trying to win a debate or get you to win a debate. I’m not trying to be able to somehow predict what is going to happen by decoding scripture’s riddles. We’re simply dwelling on the scriptures that speak of Christ’s return so that, as the writer of Hebrews said, we will be found waiting eagerly when he appears the second time. I want our hearts and minds to be balanced with dwelling on the here and now as we must, but also looking in great anticipation to the day when we will receive the “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”, as Paul writes in Romans 8:23.

Unlike the convinced cult leaders and the weird guy in your Sunday School class, Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour of his return – only the Father knows. He states this in what has become known as the Olivet discourse. The Olivet discourse occurs in the synoptic gospels. It begins in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

Let me set the context of this discourse and then next time we’ll consider Christ’s take on His return. Jesus had just gotten through with some intense debates with the religious leaders in Jerusalem at the temple. Jesus and his disciples leave the temple to go back to Bethany and they stop at the Mount of Olives where Jesus looks back at the city and says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matt. 23:37-39). What catches the ears of the disciples is that phrase in v. 38 – “See, your house is left to you desolate.” The disciples question must have been, “If Jesus is the Messiah and Jerusalem is denounced and desolate, then where will Jesus rule? What will he rule?”

This brings us to the point of the discourse – Jesus is answering their 2 questions: 1) When will the temple be destroyed? 2) What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? It is important to note that the disciples are not asking about what is going to happen to the church that Jesus is going to build. I believe, because of this, the church is conspicuously absent in the Olivet discourse – Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ questions. Maybe the church has been raptured, some may draw that implication out. However, that is just an argument by inference when it comes to the Olivet discourse. The church may in fact be present during the times that Jesus describes, but he doesn’t talk about the church because that isn’t what the disciples asked him about. The rapture of the church and the timing of that event will have to be left to another discussion. We can say definitively that the Olivet discourse simply is not about the church. It is about Jerusalem and it is about the indicators of Christ’s return.

Luke’s gospel account deals swiftly and simply with the first question – “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near (Luke 21:20).” 70 AD the Roman armies surrounded the city of Jerusalem and left it desolate. Jesus’ words in Luke 21:20 and Matthew 23:38 were proven true in 70 AD.

The second question is answered in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke – because they are so similar are called synoptic like synonymous or synonyms). In our study, let’s focus on Christ’s words as they are recorded in Matthew’s gospel. I’ll do that in the next post. Until then, spend some time reading through Matthew 24, and thinking about what Christ has to say about his appearing.

How do you say Maranatha?

“Maranatha” is the joyful exultation of the Apostle Paul written at the end of 1 Corinthians, which is translated, “Our Lord, come.” How many times a day do you find yourself thinking, “Maranatha!”? If you’re like me, it isn’t too often if at all.

This past Sunday morning I began teaching on the topic of eschatology in our adult Sunday school class. I have a semblance of confidence when teaching soteriology or ecclesiology because I have studied these things so intensely, but not so with what the Bible says about the last things – eschatology. So I started the teaching series with what I was fully convinced of – that one day Christ will return. What is sad is that I must define what I mean by those words. What I mean when I say that, “one day Christ will return” – is that some day in the future Christ will come to earth again in the same physical body with which he left and that this appearing will be visible. Many in liberal theology would say that the second coming of Christ is just allegorical, which is a flat out denial of the words of Christ and his apostles. Others will say that although his appearing will be literal, it will be invisible and mysterious. That is also a denial of what is written in the New Testament. When it comes to the return of Christ, I take the words of Christ and his apostles at face value and refuse to deny what the writer’s of the New Testament make so plain: Christ’s second coming is going to be physical and visible.

So why study Christ’s return? In the adult Sunday school class we began studying 1 Corinthians in October of 2006 and it was my assumption all along that we would just continue in our study by going on to 2 Corinthians. However, I had been convicted about my lack of knowledge regarding eschatology for a few years and I could never really pinpoint why it was that I was not very interested in the study of last things.

Then as I studied the Sovereignty Psalms I came to Psalm 98 where the psalmist commands us to sing a new song to the LORD (a very eschatological command – there are a couple of places in Revelation where it is said that people will be singing a new song when the end times come and Christ returns). Here was my conviction as I communicated it in my sermon

Psalm 98:7-9. Take in the meaning of these words – the Psalmist is saying that it is not just us as a people who are to be about singing and making joyous noise before the King. The entire planet, both the animate and the inanimate join together in this song before the LORD. And why is that? It is because of that word in v. 9 – “for”. We saw it in v. 1 and now we see it again in v. 9. In v. 1 we sing a new song “for” he has done marvelous things. Now in v. 9 all of creation joins together in joyous song “for” he is coming. The King is returning and when that happens the victory will be complete. His rule and reign and his kingdom will be fully realized. That should give us reason to sing for joy and join with all creation to celebrate the one who holds all things in his hand. Do you look forward to the time when He returns? One of the songs that we sing together that blesses me the most is It is Well. I think about that last stanza that Horatio Spafford wrote: “And LORD haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound and the LORD shall descend even so it is well with my soul.” The Apostle Paul puts it like this – 2 Tim. 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the LORD, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” Do you love his appearing? Again the Apostle Paul writes this in Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Is his appearing your blessed hope?

I recall John Piper telling about a conversation he had with his 12 year old daughter at Pizza Hut. He said they were talking and at one point he looked out the window and said I can’t wait for Jesus to come back. His daughter looked at him and said, “Daddy, I want to get married.” He knew exactly what she was saying, and I know what she was saying and you know what she was saying. I want to see my kids grow up and maybe get married. I want to be a grandpa. I want to see a great work of God in and through this tiny church here. There is so much I want, Jesus can you just hold off for a few more years? In essence, what I’m saying is that I love my life here on earth just a little bit more than I love your appearing LORD. The problem I find in my own heart and I’m pretty sure you’re not that much different than me is that the time I spend thinking on the blessed hope I have in the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ doesn’t even begin to compare with the time I spend pondering my own personal goals and my own self-fulfillment. How would we live if we would count all things as loss next to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus and looking to the day when he will set all history right WHEN HE RETURNS.

My hope and my desire is that as we study Christ’s return together as a Sunday school class we would begin to dwell on His return. My hope and desire is that we would begin with the Apostle Paul to see Christ’s return as our blessed hope and so love His appearing.

Death…Hell…Death…Hell…

I just recently got on Facebook. As I looked through the pictures of old friends and did some reminiscing, I thought of Adonirum Judson (this is random, I know, but stay with me). Adonirm Judson was one of the very first foreign missionaries to have departed American soil to go and share the Gospel with an unreached people group in Burma.

As I looked at Facebook and the pictures of old friends I thought of Adonirum Judson’s story. It is a striking story. When Judson was younger people were terrified of his brilliance. At the age of 12 he was teaching an adult Sunday School class the book of Revelation from the original Greek text. When he got to college, he began to think himself smarter than the God who made him (don’t we all) and he became a convinced deist (someone who believes in God but that God has no real impact on the affairs of mankind after his work in creation was complete – it is a denial of God as He is revealed in the Bible). He was a powerful debater and could knock the socks off of any of his Christian schoolmates. His roommate, Jacob Eames, came into school a convinced Christian and left a convinced deist and he credited Adonirum Judson with his conversion to deism. Judson’s parents prayed for him but dared not take him on in debate for fear they may lose their faith as well. The faculty at his college kept a close eye on him to see what their resident genius would finally do with his life. Later in his life he went to New York to join the theater.

After leaving the theater he went on a particular journey where he became very tired and stopped at an Inn to spend the night. The Innkeeper informed Judson that the Inn had no available rooms. However, after some insistence from Judson, the Innkeeper gave in and said that there was one available room. He wasn’t going to give out the room because there was a man in agonizing death pains and he feared it would bother anyone who tried to sleep in the adjacent room. Judson said he was so tired that he didn’t care about the noise of the dying man and so took the room. Judson lay in the bed most of the night listening to the screams of agony and the cursing misery of the man in the next room as he suffered the pangs of a lonely death. The sounds subsided and Judson eventually dosed off to sleep. He awoke the next morning and checked out. As he checked out he asked the innkeeper what became of the man in the room next to him. The innkeeper told Judson that the man had finally died in the early morning hours. Judson commented that this was a bad spot for the innkeeper: this strange man shows up at your inn and dies and now what do you do? So the innkeeper returned that he had been very perplexed as he went through the man’s possessions to find that this man was a very successful man having graduated from the college in Providence with honors, but now had died such a lonely and ignominious death. Judson said that he had graduated from the same school and the innkeeper said, “Well, perhaps you know this man’s family – his name was Jacob Eames.” Judson paused and said, “What did you say his name was?” The innkeeper replied, “Jacob Eames.” Judson got onto his horse and started to ride back, but he says he could not see in front of himself for the tears that had begun to pour down his face. As the tears fell he says, “two words were pounding into my heart as the hooves of the horse were pounding into the ground. And the two words were, ‘Death – Hell – Death – Hell – Death – Hell.’” He got off the horse and knelt down right there on the road and “repented bitterly” of his sin. He said, “Jacob Eames now lay delivering up an account of his own soul because I had knocked out any faith that he had in God.”

That’s where I was as I looked on Facebook at the lives of people who I had been in contact with when I was a younger man. How had my hypocrisy crippled any faith they had in God? How had my lack of compassion for them stripped them of hope in eternal life? How had my words caused suffering in their souls? How had my failures started them down a road from which they would not recover? Death – Hell – Death – Hell…

Oh God I pray, that by your mighty grace my shallow hypocrisy and my lack of compassion and my thoughtless words and my pitiful failures would be overcome in the lives of these people. For it is only by grace I have come this far and only by your grace that I can move from here and have any hope of being used by you to plead with people to cling to the cross and forsake sin. May I never again return to a life of shallow hypocrisy and unloving attitudes and thoughtless words and failures that are removed from your grace. May I live another 33 years to somehow, by your grace, make up for the damage my younger years may have done to the souls of men and women whose faces I now see in these pictures…

God’s Sovereignty Displayed in His Word

Psalm 99:7

In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them;
they kept his testimonies
and the statute that he gave them.

We’ve already seen in Psalm 99:6 how God’s sovereignty is displayed in prayer. In v. 7 the Psalmist says that the sovereignty of God is displayed in His word. What is happening here in v. 7? First, God spoke and then what? What did Moses, Aaron, and Samuel do with God’s word? The psalmist says that they kept his testimonies…they kept the statute that he gave them. Why would any church preach about a God who is not sovereign? We should preach the word of God because it is binding upon us; we are bound to it. The ONLY reason we are obligated to keep His testimonies, His statutes, His word is because He is sovereign. If He is not sovereign then why would you do anything He says, much less listen to anything He says. I could not and I would not preach unless God were sovereign. What point is there to obeying someone who has no authority over your life? This is why so much of Christendom is irrelevant because so many have proclaimed a message about a god who “demands the respect of no really thoughtful person” (The Sovereignty of God by AW Pink) and then they try and make this “god” relevant. That is idolatry. We must proclaim the God of the Bible if we are to ever think that people will come to see the relevance of who He is and what He has said. If He is not sovereign then His word is anything but relevant to our lives and it certainly is not binding upon our lives. It is only because he is the sovereign LORD that we must obey His word. The Psalmist says that God’s sovereignty is displayed in His word.