Following His Footsteps: “Bad Moon Rising” (Pt. 1)- Matthew 24

bad moon rising 1In 1969, John Fogerty went to a rerun of a 1941 movie called “The Devil and Daniel Webster”. Part way through the movie he was mesmerized by a scene of an approaching hurricane and the powerful imagery stuck in his mind long after the movie was over. A song started to form in his head, and Fogerty went home over the next few days and wrote “Bad Moon Rising”, a song that became a top single of 1969. “Creedence Clearwater Revival” popularized it with their recording that year, but it has been recorded by at least 20 artists since then. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the song #364 on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list – if you are willing to take their word for it.

The idea of the song was “there is a storm was on the way” – a devastating one at that. Interestingly enough, that was the general theme of Jesus’ last major sermon in Matthew’s Gospel before He gathered with His men for Passover the night before His betrayal. We saw in the last lesson that it was a time of intense pressure – and Jesus’ disputes with the Judean aristocracy were coming to an agonizing crescendo. This lesson moves us from Matthew 23 and the warnings to the disciples about Pharisees, to His great “apocalyptic (end times) sermon” in Matthew 24. In that sermon Jesus warned that Jewish people in the Tribulation would face a temptation of deception – but there was a way to stop it.

The specific message of Jesus was to Jews for a time in their future, but the principles of the warning extend to all of us. Jesus taught…

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.

If one looks carefully, the Bible leaves no uncertainty about the future of the world. With people of our day groping and grasping at everything from Nostradamus to an old Mayan calendar, we may ask: What does the future look like according to the Bible?

A key element of the answer appears to be that even some followers of Christ will become confused because they didn’t have “truth filters” installed in their discipleship. Timothy was warned by the Apostle Paul that in the last days, truth would be routinely assaulted.

In the context of the passage under our consideration (Matthew 24), the believers are Jewish, and the timing is the future Great Tribulation – and that needs to be clear. At the same time, the issue of deception is exactly the same as in our day.

Step back for a moment and look at the setting of the Matthew 24 teaching:

First, remember three important context setting truths:

1. First, there are FOUR GOSPEL TRACTS of Jesus that today we call “Gospels”. They aren’t a “Life of Jesus” – they are selections from the Life of Jesus that each make a specific point to a different audience.

2. Second, you may recall there are at least FIVE MAJOR SERMONS in Matthew: the “sermon on the mount” (Matthew 5-7), the “sermon of the true witness” (Matthew 10), the sermon on “the parable of success” in Matthew 13), the sermon of “disciples getting along” (Matthew 18) and finally the twin sermon “Pharisee woes” (Matthew 23) followed by this great “apocalyptic sermon” (Matthew 24-25) called the “Olivet Discourse”.

3. Third, the Olivet Discourse is a response to questions in Mt. 24:3.

Matthew 24:3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what [will be] the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?

The text recorded Jesus’ instructions for these Jewish followers of the days ahead for the chosen people. Strictly speaking, the purpose of this message was to outline for followers of Jesus who were Jewish, the way God would recall the program of the Jewish nation and bring about the promise of the restoration of the nation as repeatedly promised in the writings of the Hebrew prophets. The focus was to offer Jewish believers encouragement to keep their eyes open for the return of Messiah when the Tribulation was dragging on around them.

Go back to the hillside and think about the message Jesus gave.

Departing from the Temple, the disciples remarked about the size and beauty of the impressive Temple. The words must have been loaded with some corporate pride, for Jesus turned and replied that they should shed this high minded view – for the Temple would not stand long! Immediately the disciples began to ask questions about the events that were to come. Jesus sat down and replied with a series of parables and teachings.

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. 6 “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for [those things] must take place, but [that] is not yet the end. 7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 “But all these things are [merely] the beginning of birth pangs.

Did you notice the things Jesus told them would happen “at the beginning of the end” times? First, there would be a powerful attempt at DECEPTION – where people would become misled. Second, there would be heavy doses of information that led to FEAR. Third there would be DREAD OVER constant ethnic strife (the term “nation” is “ethnos”), international strife (kingdoms) and natural disasters.

The beginning is about the EROSION of truth,
the rise of FEAR through constant “rumored communication”
and the RISING SENSE of intractable conflicts and natural disasters.

In other words, if I lived in a time when people didn’t seem to really understand truth, where false words swirled across my screen posing as truth, and I felt more and more like things were getting out of control – I would start to be concerned that the hour is late… but then Jesus got even MORE POINTED.

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. 12 “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 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.

Other signs of the coming of the Messiah to His people are these: Israel would be increasingly hated among the nations (what we would call “the rise of antisemitism”), and the Jewish people would be divided against one another – some betraying others and hating each other (the cohesiveness that bound them would fade). Sadly, a reason for the hatred by the nations seems to be the persistent “they killed Jesus” lie, so Jesus warned the hatred would come “because of My name.”

Lying prophets (some in lab coats with degrees from prestigious pagan institutions) will tug on the hearts of the people – pulling them away from the truth their fathers gave them in the Word. Instead of a firm commitment to the Scriptures, they will increasingly buy into the latest social theories of the world – but that won’t get them fully accepted – it will only divide them more. As the fabric of the society is shredded by waves of wild social theories, people will lose their bonds one to another. The law of God cast off, they will find themselves believing one lie after another, and sinking deeper into delusion. Yet, in the background, the Gospel will not die – it will keep coming back, popping up in one place after another. They will punch it downward – but like a “whack-a-mole” game, it will pop up again and again.

Watch closely as we can even see the LIES that people will follow in the text:

#1: Finding Rescue Elsewhere

Matthew 24:4 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.

Some people will believe it comes from “church”, even if the church changes what it believes with every strong popular wind.

Minister Who Denies God’s Existence: I Don’t Appreciate Being Told I’m Not a Christian (March 23, 2015) By: Heather Clark:

“A Presbyterian USA minister in Oregon who says that he doesn’t believe in God—and doesn’t require his members to believe either—remarked in a recent article that he is offended by those who assert that he is not a Christian. “Someone quipped that my congregation is BYOG: Bring Your Own God. I use that and invite people to ‘bring their own God’—or none at all,” wrote John Shuck of Beaverton’s Southminster Presbyterian Church in a guest post for Patheos last week. “While the symbol ‘God’ is part of our cultural tradition, you can take it or leave it or redefine it to your liking.” Shuck first came out as an unbeliever in 2011, generating controversy as to how one could serve as a minister and not believe in the Bible. “The concept of ‘God’ is a product of myth-making and ‘God’ is no longer credible as a personal, supernatural being,” he wrote in a blog post on his site “Shuck and Jive.” “Jesus may have been historical, but most of the stories about Him in the Bible and elsewhere are legends.” Shuck reiterated his unbelief in his article “I’m a Presbyterian Minister Who Doesn’t Believe in God” on Tuesday, as he asserted that “[b]elief-less Christianity is thriving.” “We all have been trained to think that Christianity is about believing things,” he wrote. “Its symbols and artifacts (God, Bible, Jesus, Heaven, etc) must be accepted in a certain way. And when times change and these beliefs are no longer credible, the choices we are left with are either rejection or fundamentalism.” But Shuck says that although he rejects the Bible as being literal, and denies the existence of Heaven and Hell, he takes offense when people tell him that he’s not a Christian.”

When a deluded preacher lectures that a flawed Bible shares an unknowable God but is offended when you won’t call him a “Christian” – you have left reality. You are now in the “twilight zone” – for the light grows dim and the darkness draws near. Beneath this dribble and distraction is the LIE that one can find rescue elsewhere – that Jesus was an unnecessary appendage to a story of salvation and sin from an abstract mythology of the Bronze Age, much later assembled by a power hungry church to keep the masses at bay. In all of that jumble, the truth is lost. Jesus changes lives – just as He promised to do. His word is truth, whether that truth offends modern sensitivities or not.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be found in people, places and values that do not reflect His 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.

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.

Some educators are keenly aware of the deconstruction of literature now taught in universities across the country. The disconnection of the text from the author and the attempt to establish the primary link to the hearer is quickly undermining any singular meaning in every great text of literature. Students are taught routinely to disregard the discovery of the author’s intent in favor of their own response and feelings to the writing. Primary meaning is no longer discovered by conjecture about the author’s mind – that isn’t relevant. The issue is the reader and how they feel about the information. Postmodern thinkers have been trained thoroughly in this – and it is having a devastating effect on Bible study in the modern church.

Dear ones, there is but one “immunization”: Know the Author of the Scriptures personally, and then learn His Word well. Know it in its context. Know every book – together they contain the irreducible minimum of God’s equipping package.

#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. See that you are not frightened, for [those things] must take place, but [that] is not yet the end. 7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 “But all these things are [merely] the beginning of birth pangs..”

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.

The caution of Jesus was this: Don’t be drawn into FEAR and DISTRACTION from reaching men because of the relentless waves of rumor that evil is overtaking us. Beneath the fear there is a lie: When man has lost control – God has lost control – and it is time to panic. People will come to believe the future is in the hands of men, and that they are victims of a system too large to control.

Watch for these symptoms: Increasingly the church will be drawn into political action in place of evangelism, protest in the place of prayer and humanitarian help instead of Gospel commitment. Waves of social Gospel will offset carefully considered theology and true commitment to Biblical searching. Outrage born out of fear will flood the house of praise.

Don’t let it happen. There is an Immunization: Recognize that God’s Word makes clear His sovereignty over all things. God has the control, but desires to collaborate on the ministry. It is the reason Jesus came from the womb of a woman. We must recognize that we do not vote to change the outcome of God’s plan – we vote to be responsible and godly citizens. We share the Gospel without the ability to change a heart – but we do so in faithfulness to the Savior and out of love for the lost. We serve people without the ability to work within them. We pray and we engage, but we don’t panic. God is still in control, and we live reflecting that truth.

#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.”

My best understanding of this passage is that Jesus is speaking to the men, not simply as believers (Christians) but as Jews. I believe that because of several specific references that He made in the message as it is recorded for us. First, the end times in the minds of the Disciples seemed stuck on “What will happen to the Jewish people” mode, as is clear later (after the resurrection) in Acts 1:

Acts 1:6 “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Note carefully that AFTER the Olivet Discourse, AFTER the Cross, AFTER the Resurrection – the Disciples of Jesus were asking: Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel? Like students of the prophet Daniel, Isaiah and Ezekiel – the Jewish followers of Jesus were interested in how the future affected Israel. Give them a break – the church was an unseen entity – a “mystery” to the prophets of old.

Step back from the interpretation of the words and look for a moment to the application of the principles behind them.

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). Some have come to believe that God desires them to be healthy, wealthy and wise – and their preaching has weakened the church and polluted the message. If the Gospel came with a primary purpose to elevate believer’s economics and prosperity, God would owe an apology to many martyrs of the church throughout our history!

Other believers gauge God’s “success” by their “ministry’s success” (read bigger numbers this month than last) – and that is wrong. Ask the former missionaries to China after the expulsion. God is weaving together a plan that will meet His objective – to show Himself in all His glory to the cosmos at the end. Our affliction is not proof that God is on the ropes. Our disfavor among the lost is not a symbol that God will not be victorious.

Watch carefully for the symptoms: Increasingly, Christians will move from being those who know the Book and the God of the Book – those who bring an ANSWER to the problems of men. Believers will increasingly be viewed as the PROBLEM. We will not be able to follow the lack of logic used in hate-filled arguments that gang up on us while calling us the bigoted and intolerant ones. We will make a simple statement of our faith like “Jesus saves” and it will be pounced upon as “un-American, homophobic, hateful and intolerant.” No one will seem to notice that all the “hate filled posts with filthy language” will be written by those who attacked us. Get used to it, and grow thicker skin. Jesus isn’t losing.

We need a simple immunization: We need to learn to trust in God’s plan. Look carefully at the past and watch God’s pattern as revealed in His Word. Faith is seeing it through God’s eyes. “The mind of a man plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.” “The Most High rules in the Kingdom of men…” James argued that observing carefully the prophets of old and learning from the likes of Job would help in persecution. Learning to focus on the benefits of faithfulness and the eventual exposure of God’s character help a believer make it through dark times.

#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. 13 “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 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.”

As before, I believe Jesus is speaking to the Jewish followers in the context of the Tribulation period – and I don’t want to skip that fact. At the same time, look at the underlying principle here. Imagine you were a progressive Israeli businessman who brought to market some incredible products that helped mankind, and you increasingly saw your markets closed by boycotts and hatred that had nothing to do with you or your product – or even what you voted for at your poll station. 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.

Now step back and look at the church. Some young people may see older people as “embittered” by some of their reactions to the waves of immorality and vitriol that we are seeing grow day by day. The young may not understand the “sense of mourning” of the older believers as they watch our nation slide and a way of life walk off into the sunset of the non-nonsensical and conscience seared.

Here is the truth: The notion of morality will increasingly 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 “regressionists”. 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”. Though Jesus referred to those “who endured to the end” in the context of the Tribulation Period – it is nevertheless true that we should expect that shouldering on during times of persecution will never be easy.

Older believers are MOURNING the loss of a time when you could say “I support life and think that killing a child is wrong!” without the hateful thought police coming to attack.

This week brought this news of the normal bonds breaking between people:

In an article by Robert Darcy: Murder charges won’t be filed against the woman accused of attacking a pregnant woman and cutting her baby out of her stomach, officials said Thursday. Boulder County, Colorado, prosecutor Stanley Garnett said late Thursday night that murder charges would not be filed against 34-year-old Dynel Lane. Officials did not disclose what charges they would be pursuing against the 34-year-old. Lane is accused of luring 26-year-old Michelle Wilkins to her home with a Craigslist ad, then brutally attacking her before cutting out the baby she was carrying from her stomach. She was arrested after driving to the hospital with the dead baby and claiming she had a miscarriage. A 911 call released provided a disturbing account of Wilkins desperately calling authorities for help after the attack. “Please,” the 26-year-old woman can be heard saying on the chilling call. “She cut me in my stomach,” the victim, 7-months pregnant, added. “I’m afraid … please come. I’m bleeding out.” Wilkins is expected to make a recovery following the attack. The baby did not survive. Read the beginning again: “Murder charges won’t be filed.” Don’t let anyone tell you that our laws that allow people to kill the unborn won’t affect the other laws of our culture. They have.

Take courage, dear ones. We are not the first believers to have suffered an assault on truth. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher who wrote: “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.” Take courage, you faith family has been here before.

Jesus told the disciples that the Gospel and its spread would keep happening in the terror of the Tribulation Period. Will it not keep happening in America today? Do you not see that as families fall apart and America keeps redefining things to feel successful that some will know it isn’t true?

• Don’t you think that some will see through an “economic recovery” that continues to borrow money every day to meet the demands of an entitlement society?

• Don’t you believe that some won’t figure out that if a “marriage” means “anything people want it to” that is means nothing at all?

• Don’t you recognize that with each social experiment of freedom, more people will face yet more complicated scenarios for which a moral “right or wrong” won’t even seem to apply?

I am an optimist. I think there will always be some that will know they are being duped by charlatans. You have heard the immunization over and over again – the Word of God. In order to process it, we must teach followers of Jesus:

• To read it.
• To process information correctly.
• To challenge even widely held assumptions.
• To articulate their Biblical world view in rhetorically recognized arguments.

The inoculation for deception is knowledge of the truth.

This is why we need solid teachers and trainers. Poorly trained disciples are poorly prepared disciples. They need to know how to immunize themselves from the prevalent lies around them.

Lies abound – but TRUTH STANDS SURE. Don’t forget the news won’t tell you the truth about our world:

• Many a godly young man or woman train right now to defend our country. Make any policy they want – these believers will man their posts with a Bible in their pack and Jesus in their heart.

• Many a godly young woman will refuse to allow a young man to put her in a compromising situation because they know their body is not their own – they will remain pure and committed to Jesus Christ.

• Many a godly couple will remain strong in their marriage, and overcome every obstacle because they know that Jesus called them to be together – and that is how they will live.

• Many a godly businessman or businesswoman will give sacrificially today for the cause of Christ and the mission to reach the world. They will work all the harder to give all the more. They don’t need to be harangued or manipulated – their heart is to GIVE!

• In the halls of power and the courts of justice, men and women of faith will quietly uphold God’s truth – in spite of those who are better known that will not. They will judge fairly and Biblically. They will love God and serve their fellow man in public service.

God has millions on His side too. Don’t forget that. This isn’t over yet, and when it is- Jesus wins!