I gave this talk at St Bartholomew’s church Greens Norton in Northamptonshire on Sunday 5th November and is published here just in case it is of interest to those in Itchen Valley. Unfortunately I could not take a recording
24 As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs. 9 “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come
Matthew 24:1-14 How to live with hope on the horizon
‘a medieval torture chamber’ ‘absolute agony’ ‘words cannot describe it’ ‘horrendous’ ‘I will never forget that pain’ ‘excruciating’ ‘If there had been an injection to kill me available right there, I would have taken it’
Victims of torture perhaps?
Interviews with burn casualties, maybe?
Descriptions of labour from NetMums which describes itself as the UK’s biggest parenting website.
Many of you will have guessed that and be thinking back to your own experiences of the birth of your children.
Almost all the experienced mums who kindly put descriptions of their labour on NetMums for first time mothers to read and I think to encourage them say that you must concentrate on each contraction as being ‘one closer’ to the actual birth. ‘The more painful it gets the closer you are’ ‘its because your baby is on the way’.
Some mothers speak of soon forgetting the pain when the baby has been delivered – Something so wonderful which follows something so awful.
It is so striking that Jesus in this passage set by the Lectionary for today uses the image of birth pangs to describe the wars between nations, the earthquakes and famines which will precede his return and the putting right of everything, justice and peace once and for all.
And there is plenty around us today which is so horrifying: a glance at the headlines:
‘Brexit bust up’
‘Nuclear face off’
‘After the fire’
‘Putin’s power play’
‘Carbon Dioxide Crisis’
….give a glimpse of the terrible troubles of the world in which we live in which there is so much pain, so much misery and so much hate.
And as every day passes we seem to get closer to the possibility of a nuclear exchange with North Korea; a biological or chemical attack by ISIS; the melting of the Polar ice caps and the flooding of our cities; not to mention the hurricanes in the Caribbean and the possibility of volcanoes in our islands and earthquakes in major centres like Los Angeles or Tokyo.
As we get more populated and our technology gets more sophisticated, our ability to damage each other and the damage which gets done gets worse and worse. It is said that about the same number of people were killed in war in the 20th century, around 180 million, as in the whole of human history until then.
Like the contractions of a woman in labour, Jesus is telling us that things will get worse: more horrible, more destructive, more painful, but eventually Jesus will return and everything will be put right!
But when will this all happen?
Well its clear from Net Mums that new mothers have no idea how long their labour will last; is it going to be eight minutes, eight hours or thirty eight hours?
And in the context of the God who created the universe over billions of years, and, in Genesis, called it ‘seven days’, the limited time frame of human life may not even span the distance between contractions, for the rebirth of heaven and earth foretold by the Bible.
But Jesus tells us in verse 36 of Chapter 24 that not even He knows when he will return so there is no point at all in listening to those who say they have calculated the precise day that the world will end…As one theologian has said the landscape is scattered with the white bones of those who predicted when the world was going to end.
But when Jesus does return, verse 27, it will be completely obvious to the whole world, to the whole human race, at once. He will come suddenly and verse 38,39 like those who were eating and drinking marrying and giving in marriage in Noah’s time who had no idea what was about to happen to them when suddenly the flood water came and took them away.
It will be the same for those of us who are not ready when Jesus returns: we will all be carrying on our usual lives and suddenly the end will come: ‘two men will be in the field one will be taken and the other left two women will be grinding with a hand mill one will be taken and the other left’
So how are we to live during this time before he has returned?
How are we to live while the world is going through such terrible suffering?
Well Jesus tells us to live like a woman in labour, where every pain is bearable because of hope on the horizon.
The suffering of the birth pangs will be felt by the nations in general, as there will be wars between nations, famines and earthquakes, but the suffering will also be personal to Christians as, verse 9, we will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death and we will be hated because of Christ.
How do we feel about the return of Christ?
How do you feel about the return of Christ?
We often say, ‘Don’t worry its not the end of the world’ well someday it will be….but do we worry about it?
I have been trying to think of a good illustration to show how we might think…
imagine you are in a French family in Normandy in May 1944 and you hear this on the radio…the first beats of Beethoven’s ninth spelling out the morse code V for victory
How do you feel?
This is the drum beat introduction of the BBC broadcasts to occupied France followed by such obscure messages as ‘…Paul has some good tobacco’ … ‘the secretary is very pretty’ … ‘I want to be a godfather’ … ‘the big blonde is called Bill’ …..which were actually coded messages saying where weapons and munitions were going to be dropped by parachute to the Resistance.
The drum beats were an indication that the invasion was on its way.
So, if you are a family which has been cooperating with the Nazis, when you hear that sound of the drum beat, a cold shiver runs down your spine, you know that the game is about to be up and there will be consequences.
But, if you are a family with a member in the Resistance, these sounds make your heart beat faster; a sense of joy pervades your whole being: soon the suffering will be over, as the Allies invade. Things may get worse, before they get better, as the Normandy coast is bombed but eventually justice will be restored!
How do you feel about the return of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, perhaps?
Does this thrill you with excitement or does it make you feel uncomfortable?
Its a bit like the question what do you feel when you hear the name ‘Jesus’ on the radio. Do you turn it up? Or turn it off?
For those of us who turn it up, rather than turn it off, Jesus gives us three pieces of advice, while we are looking towards that horizon, that wonderful time when Christ will return:
Don’t lose your faith verse 10
Don’t be deceived verse 11
Don’t let your love your love grow cold verse 12
because we, you and I, have a role to play in the run up to his return. Its what we were born for. Have we discovered this purpose yet? Have we read the coded instructions which he has been trying to communicate to us, all our lives?
Firstly, don’t lose your faith.
The final birth pangs, the contractions of the world before Christ returns
are going to shake our confidence in the things on which we rely.
What do we rely upon for our confidence?
What do we look on with pride, like the pride the disciples felt in viewing the Temple? Maybe our country; our history; being British; our society; our government; our democracy; our monarchy; our economy; our bank balance; our pension; or the value of our homes?
Jesus says: ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down’. All that stuff on which we rely is going to go…
Is our confidence in Jesus; is our faith, stronger than our confidence in our country, our pension, our homes?
If not, its time NOW to develop a real faith in Jesus Christ, a relationship with him.
If we get used to trusting him now in those anxieties when everything is relatively rosy, then when we face a real crisis, we will be able to speak confidently about the hope we have on the horizon and give others that hope also.
So, firstly, don’t lose your faith
Secondly, don’t be deceived
In a crisis its easy to turn to strong leaders, people who are going to sort things out. Would Germany have turned to Hitler, had not been for the misery of the Weimar Republic?
When Jesus returns, it will be obvious to everyone: lightening across the sky.
We will all know.
Don’t turn to false messiahs, political leaders of right or left, offering solutions to take away the fear of the birth pangs as society unravels.
So, secondly, don’t be deceived
and, thirdly, don’t let your love grow cold
One of the most unpleasant aspects of modern life I think is the hate in every day speech: both left and right practise hate. But often it seems to me that the most outspoken about hate crimes seem to be those who appear to so virulently hate others. You see whether its ‘transphobia’ or ‘tory scum’, its all hate really.
But the problem is one of fear. We can all see that society is in danger, that the stones of the temple, the things in which we have put our confidence, are shaking and we seek to manage this fear by taking control and we get angry with those who won’t let us.
But this is all because we cannot see the hope on the horizon.
There used to be an expression we used in the Territorial Army: there are those who panic; and those who do not properly understand the situation…
But to that I would now add: then there are those who know and believe their Bibles.
You see if we really knew; if we really believed that Jesus was coming back to restore justice and peace; to bring an end to suffering; to abolish death for ever, we would not worry about the stones of the temple shaking. We would see that there is no need for hate, because there is no need for control and we would be able to be beacons of hope for so many people.
However much they hate us, we must go on loving them….
So, as the situation gets worse and worse:
Don’t Lose your faith
Don’t be deceived
Don’t let your love grow cold
and as Jesus concludes: the one who endures to the end will be saved