Following His Footsteps: “Bad Moon Rising” – Matthew 24, Pt.2

newbornHave you ever seen a baby delivered? I was physically, emotionally and frantically present during all three of my children’s arrivals into this world in their respective birthing suites. During the birth of our first-born, I remember wondering if my wife would live through the process. I admit it, I was alone by her bedside, and I was very afraid. You see, I didn’t go to a bunch of classes about the birth process, and I didn’t really know what to expect. What I know now is that much of the pain of the process quickly faded in her mind, though it lived on in mine. God gave her grace and some significant internal hormone production that I just didn’t get. He offered her an escape that I couldn’t have. She literally slept between contractions, while I stood over her worried between each one, thinking she wasn’t going to make it through. Because I didn’t know how hard this would be on her (and because I love her), I thought she was experiencing it the same way I was, but I was wrong. She was focused on the end of the process – and able to move through the experience with pain, but with a level of confidence. She was more prepared for the experience than I was, because she took the time to learn about it ahead of time. She was “trained” for this and it didn’t catch her by surprise. She knew that pain preceded the arrival, but the child would make the process worthwhile. I focused on the moment, and panicked inside. If I would have taken the time to learn about birthing, I would have understood the process she was engaging and recognized the signs for what they were – a normal process. She wasn’t dying, it just appeared that way!

The same can be said of preparation for the tough times of tribulation promised ahead for the world. Here is what we are learning from the words of the Savior…

Key Principle: The inoculation for deception is knowledge of the truth.

Poorly trained disciples are poorly prepared disciples. We need to know truth in order to immunize ourselves from the prevalent lies around them or they will fall into deception.

You may recall that during Jesus’ sermon designed to answer the questions: “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” He made clear that pain was coming before the excitement of the new age of the Kingdom. He spoke to His followers who were both Jews and followers of Jesus – but when Jesus addressed them He seemed keen to make sure that His words referred in particular to the Jewish people. He told them that trouble would come, and they should pray it wasn’t “on the Sabbath” – a hat tip toward the specific Jewish aspect of the prophecy. I attempted to make clear in the last part of the lesson that the specific message of Jesus was to Jews facing a specifically designed tribulation period (for a time in their collective future), but the principles of the warning extend to all of us. Jesus taught…

As we come back to the passage, let’s quickly review what we learned about that future time and its principles in the last lesson… Jesus promised trouble and pain before His presence – like the birth of a child. He warned them that some would be sorely tempted to view events wrongly, so they were to be on guard. He said some would be:

#1: Finding Rescue Elsewhere

Matthew 24:4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.

Jesus warned that people would signal rescue from sin and its effects can come from somewhere else – and many will believe that. He warned His men: “Do not be deceived”: God cannot be found in people, places and values that do not reflect My Holy Word. Many will use “God words” and people who are unfamiliar with the context and meaning of the Word of God will be drawn into their lie.

He urged them to watch for the Symptoms: Even organizations and ministries that have historically held to the Word of God will increasingly begin to see the Bible as much less definite and specific about what it truly says. Things that were once clear will begin to be eroded as “not very clear”. While secular culture will increasingly use scientific studies that skew data for their own purposes, religious groups with so-called “Biblical studies” will be increasingly confused by the mystifying complexity involved in the teaching of the Word. Jesus also warned that they would be tempted to begin…

#2 Growing Fearful and Distracted

Jesus continued to identify the pressure points of coming deception:

Matthew 24:6 “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars…”

Note again the words of Jesus are NOT that there are more WARS necessarily – but more information sources of RUMORS. The emphasis was not on the killing in the sentence – but rather on the TRANSMISSION OF INFORMATION. The COMMAND of Jesus did not regard a believer’s attempts to MAKE PEACE ON EARTH, but rather FIND PEACE in the waves of fearmongering. He continued, some would begin…

#3: Feeling Like Losers

Jesus wasn’t nearly done with the marks of the end time. He continued:

Matthew 24:9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.”

What seemed clear in His teaching was that a rising tide of hatred for people God is work within will characterize the end. This will be true in the tribulation of the Jewish people (and signs of it are already very present), but it will also be true of followers of Jesus before they are rescued by the Savior. We aren’t going to be POPULAR if we are committed to following Christ. We have been saying it for years, but it seems like a surprise to so many still. Behind the need to be popular is a profound lie: “God is only winning when believers are gaining ground that we can observe” (the statistical lie). Another problem Jesus cited was that some would face a deep disappointment…

#4: Mourning the Loss

As a middle-aged Pastor, I have had the opportunity to observe something that I think is in view in the passage, at least in application of its principles. Jesus said:

Matthew 24:12 “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold…”

There will soon come a day when the progressive Israeli businessman who brought to market some incredible products that helped mankind, will face irrational boycotts and endless slurs because of hatred that had nothing to do with him or his product – beyond his ethnic identity. During that tribulation of those days, some Jews will no doubt be feeling robbed of something they once had – and the result will be MOURNING inside. In that same vein, there is fast approaching in our nation a total disdain for any suggestion that Christian belief ever aided in our national history. Even more, the notion of morality is increasingly in conflict with the new definition of freedom that includes only unbridled choices. As the family deteriorates, and the natural bonds fall, those who argue for the way it was before the introduction of the modern social experimentation will be swept aside as backward thinking and “regressionist”. Attacks against believers will rise, and some will fall away from the practice of the faith because of the poor teaching that left them to conclude that “all things work together for comfort and prosperity”.

Keep reading… You will see that Jesus noted that some will be…

#5: Getting Distracted

Matthew 24:14 “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come…

Increasingly, God’s people will live in harmony with a great lie: There is no urgency about sharing the Gospel. So many other agendas will overtake God’s people. Some will be so busy trying to save moral and historical America they will cease recognizing we are called to save AMERICANS with the Gospel. They will find more time for CAUSES than for Christ. If they are honest, they could share that for every hour raging about abortion, they have spent only seconds truly sharing the Gospel with a co-worker or neighbor. Don’t misunderstand me, causes are fine. Yet, spending much more energy on God’s causes than God’s company is a mistake.

There is a symptom of this we should be aware of: Distracted people show boredom with the truth – they want something NEW and EXCITING. “Church meetings” in some places, have become CONCERTS followed by COUNSELING THERAPY SESSIONS, as people who will not open their Bibles and have not truly submitted to Christ try to find a way to compromise with God and negotiate peace and prosperity this side of Heaven. If I were the enemy, I would get the church tied up in politics and divide her there. I would get her running hospitals, clinics, schools, and humanitarian efforts that were so financially heavy that she could no longer afford to operate without the world’s financial system. I would swamp the boat with concerns and problems of a philanthropic nature – and keep her Gospel message as a back burner issue. I would turn her church service into either a reworked John 3:16 sermon every week – to keep her from feeling the other 85% of God’s Word that is about surrendered daily behaviors and choices was truly important. I would seek to turn sermons into therapeutic session to help her members feel better on earth without the longing for Heaven. I would replace PRAYER with PROACTIVE POLITICAL ACTION. I would replace FEAR of God with FELLOWSHIP.

It is also worth noting that there is an immunization for this problem: We can recognize the end will not come until the Gospel has spread as Jesus foretold –and we can hasten the return only by obedience to its sharing. We MUST share the Gospel with our own towns. We must care enough about lost men, and show that we TRULY BELIEVE they are eternally lost, to present Christ. Our services should be deep and rich experiences to show how believers can walk with God, and what lay in the life beyond this life. Hunger for Heaven’s approval should outpace the desire to control our country’s moral direction. We may want to see America turn around, but the tool to make that happen is not a correction of its stand on issues – it is the Gospel. Only the Gospel can change the rest of the directional problems we have. Revival of God’s church and the place of the Gospel in American life will be fully effective. Just like we argue before the world that teaching abstinence in our sex education classes is the ONLY thing that will be 100% effective when one follows what they learn, we argue that offering the Gospel is the only truly effective way to change a nation. Give the Gospel. Live the Gospel – it will change our world. In the past it did, and in the future it can as well. You changed when you came to Christ. So will they. Don’t be easily distracted by the next Christian “flavor of the month”…Jesus also warned that we would be faced with…

#6 The Problem of Ignorant Believers

Matthew 24:15 “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 “Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 “Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 19 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 “But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 21 “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22 “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

There is a Lie that is already alive in the church of our day: We don’t need a thorough knowledge of all of God’s Word to navigate life successfully. What good would the warnings of Jesus be if one had no knowledge of Daniel’s prophecies? How prepared for troubles would the believer who came up in the “flavor of the month” seminar style church be?

We must be able to recognize the symptoms of the end times. Ignorant believers will be well meaning but will not understand losses and setbacks – and will not stick when the prosperity fades and the troubles roll in. Believing Israel was to know when to flee. Modern Christians ought to know when to flee the financial system that is built on lies, or the debt system that is built on bubbles, or the stock system that is built on speculations of greedy and manipulative men. They ought to be able to measure truth from God’s Word well enough to know when men are manipulating the Scriptures to say the popular but not the true.

As with all end time ailments, there is an immunization available: We must be so well versed in what God said and the context in which God said it that anyone using the Bible inappropriately would be easily an openly challenged by the least among us. Enough of the Jesus that came only to GIVE ME WHAT I WANT, and the selfish and fleshly sermons of self-gain. Christianity must come clean and be washed of its filthy greed in the name of Jesus philosophy.

If our country continues to price things based on obfuscation and complicated beclouding of bills written to cover gouging and greed, we will all go down economically together. The Bible is clear on honesty and integrity. Being clever at the expense of being honest is just plain ungodly behavior. Do business in a godly way or get out of business.

Some believers won’t simply be ignorant of the Word, they will be unable to sense spiritual nonsense. We will increasingly face…

#7 The Problem of Undiscerning Believers

Matthew 24:23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or There [He is],’ do not believe [him]. 24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 “Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 “So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, [or], ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe [them]. 27 “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

There is an underlying lie that we should be able to spot: God hasn’t clearly warned us that many will defect and follow false faith. Three times in the passage Jesus warned Jews they will be tempted to fall away. His chief concern in the whole of the chapter appeared to be that very temptation.

The fact is that many don’t seem to be truly discerning between “Christian subculture” and the real and vibrant Christian faith. Christianity isn’t just about a new set of hot bands, and something different to do on a Saturday night or Sunday morning. It isn’t a social club. Christianity is a commitment to Jesus Christ that permeates my being and forces transformation of my values, practices, priorities and commitments. If you don’t have that – you aren’t one!

There is an immunization: Jesus warned that the event would come, and many would be falsely offering assistance and salvation (24:24). He said those watching will plainly see the end was near (24:27-28). We should become so familiar with the Lord’s good hand that we recognize how revealing what He said truly is. He warned us and characterized the dangers because He knew exactly what the end looked like – and He wanted it to be clear to us as well. Discerning believers follow God’s Word, and do not seek to verify truth by popularity.

#8 The Problem of Misdirected Believers

Matthew 24:29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

The Lie beneath this harsh statement of the tribulation must be understood: Many teach that God is redeeming this earth to make it into His Kingdom. More and more believers are concluding that God wants us to fix this planet to bring in the Kingdom. That theology has become more popular than ever before – sprouting into movements of conservation and philanthropy from the church. There is nothing wrong with appropriately preserving what I can on this planet – I was called to be a steward of God’s things. At the same time, if God’s Word is to be taken seriously, the end for this planet is fire – if Peter or John’s writings have anything to do with literal truth. If that is the case, I should not fall in love with things here, but invest in things there – in Heaven. That is where my treasure should be stored. My hope is not in this life, but in the life to follow. Whenever more intense persecution came into church history, teaching about Heaven became more pronounced. What message should we be preaching to those of Africa in the path of butchery and mass murder? I suspect it is one about Heaven, not simply more about conservation and the coming Kingdom.

There is a symptom we must observe even now: As I look toward the things that have real meaning in my life, I should recognize what is REAL is not what is NOW. Heaven is the REAL, now is the TEMPORARY. If my seeking of the Lord is all for health, wealth and prosperity, am I not showing that I have an agenda different than the coming days of God?

There is also an immunization that will keep me from misreading the events. I must learn to read the times. Jesus illustrated the reliability of these words and the fact that the events will be plain to those who heed His words by the fig tree (24:32-33). As the Biblical “ground hog”, it marked the sure coming of Spring in the minds of the local Jerusalemites: 30 “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. 31 “And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. 32 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, [right] at the door.

Understand real hope is found in the truth that bad times are limited and planned events. The generation that sees these signs will see also the return of the Son of Man, and the end (24:34): “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

Jesus promised that the generation that saw the beginning of the Great Tribulation would see its end – the very same generation. It would not go on like a night without end. What an important message to those who are passing through powerful troubles, hatred and injustice. Jesus said there was yet another danger…

#9: The Problem of Exhausted Believers

Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 “Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 “Two women [will be] grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.

There is an underlying lie that will yield a sinful pattern: Relaxing in unreal certainty. Many believers live like there is no coming judgment; no coming calamity for their lost neighbor, no day to answer for life lived on earth. They are certain of their plans – even if the Bible offers no foundation for that certainty. The symptom of this lifestyle is this: Frivolous lives spent in pursuit of self.

God provided an immunization. Remember that judgment draws near. The responsibility for the time is set by the Father. In the Scripture, the Tribulation will be filled with terror and death, as one after another will be removed from the scene in death (24:37-41) and those left behind try to make it through another day of pain! Temptation will be severe to believe that Messiah would NOT return and that God had forsaken His people, Israel (24:42-51). In our world it is not PAIN, but PROSPERITY that blurs focus – but that is built on a borrowed bubble economy. Don’t trust in it. Do what you can while you can – but don’t trust borrowed money and an economy based on false markers.

Finally, Jesus called out…

#10: The Problem of Fickle Believers

The Master promised:

Matthew 24:42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think [He will]. 45 “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 “Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 “But if that evil slave says in his heart, My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect [him] and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Underlying our failure to watch the times is a life based on the lie: It doesn’t matter how I live as long as I know Christ as Savior. There are many with the symptom of this malaise. They are people who live by their own moral rules but claim Christ as their Lord. These are those who have sexual relationships outside of God’s defined marriage, but learn to feel ok with it. These are those who routinely lie and steal, but claim Christ as their Savior and Master.

Think through the necessary immunization: God’s Word maintains that God’s expectation is always faithfulness. It isn’t impossible to walk with God – just difficult. Grasp His hand, and God will guide you through the process!

Jesus recognized that the issue was trust in His promises, and an unshakeable belief in His character that would not allow them to see their Master as mean and hostile (25:14-30). He finished the message with a “standard of judgment” for the nations (25:31-46) suggesting that the way in which one will show their salvation is the way they treat God’s people during those days of darkness!

We should remember that. God anticipates that people will become harsh with His people as the end comes close. We must not assist in that process. The people of this world are fickle, and it is easy to be deceived when looking for the applause of men. An old story reminds:

There is a story told about Napoleon and his army as they moved through Switzerland on their way to battle. As he entered each new town, he was greeted with thunderous applause: “Long live the King! Hail to the Emperor Napoleon!” But Napoleon didn’t seem too excited about what was going on. So a captain riding behind him said to him, “Isn’t it great to hear the roar of the crowd and the support of the people?” But Napoleon replied, “The same people that are cheering for me today would cheer just as loudly at my execution.” He knew that adulation is easy and often temporary.

It is easy to be deceived, and not watchful. It is easy to talk ourselves into relaxation in the face of trouble. The philosopher Plato was credited in antiquity with saying: “The greatest deception is SELF deception.”

Don’t be deceived by borrowed prosperity and shifting modern morality. Don’t forget, the inoculation for deception is knowledge of the truth.

During World War II, particularly at the time of the Battle of the Bulge, a group of Nazi soldiers were commanded to dress in the uniforms of the Allies, and infiltrate the lines. These soldiers used American military vehicles and went through the German countryside changing the road signs and confusing the direction of the advancing army. This deception gave them a strategic edge that was prevented only by those who read the map before engagement. So it is with today’s church. We have the map already.